HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR
“I am most remembered for that headline, the best in tabloid history,” R.G. “Dick” Belsky declares. Belsky spent decades as a journalist, his colorful career filled with celebrities and notoriety, before diving into novel writing.
While he wasn’t the one who wrote the 1983 headline, he did send a reporter to the crime scene. “It was locked tight,” Belsky says. “The reporter climbed atop a garbage can, looked in the window and saw a sign, ‘Topless Dancing.’”
“I put it on the front page.”
Such gallows humor amid heinous crimes and human depravity is not a far cry from the goings-on behind the scenes in Beyond the Headlines (Oceanview), Belsky’s latest crime novel featuring quirky tabloid reporter Clare Carlson.
As a TV executive, Clare misses being a working journalist. She becomes obsessed with big crime stories. Belsky explains, “Clare is a newspaper reporter at heart who wound up on TV. She thinks of herself as a newspaper person. I do, too, with great pride.”
A TROPHY WIFE ACCUSED OF MURDER
Beyond the Headlines begins with Clare’s big “get,” an interview with a model-turned-trophy wife — one who is about to divorce her much-older zillionaire husband. But when Clare goes to the interview at her Fifth Avenue apartment, there are no ratings-bump confessions with crying and closeups. Instead, the police arrest the newly minted widow for shooting her husband to death.
Turns out, Clare discovers, the marriage was no honeymoon. More murders come to light. Clare is drawn into 50-year-old secrets dating back to the Vietnam War, secrets that provide clues to today’s crimes. As Clare covers what seems to be an airtight murder case, the perp may beat the rap by smearing the victim. As in, “He beat me and abused me. He got what he deserved.”
Belsky narrates, “At the same time, other women from [the deceased’s] past began to come forward, making claims of abuse and inappropriate sexual actions by him. They said they had been afraid to say anything earlier because [he] was so powerful and vindictive that they had been inspired by the courage of [the first woman] to tell her story.
“A few of these women were likely opportunists out to get free publicity or make a quick buck …” Sounds true to life. As Belsky explains, “I’m not walking on eggshells, but I do have to be careful writing about things that wouldn’t have been offensive 25 years ago, or even five years ago,” he said.
He added, “#MeToo can work against women. Clare first believed what her fellow woman said was true. But when she found out she was misled, and that the liar used the movement for her own selfish reasons, Clare was even angrier.”
IRREVERENT HUMOR AND PUNCHY DIALOG
Scenarios that are believable, funny, but not rigidly politically correct seem to be Belsky’s forte. Here’s what his sports broadcaster character says:
“It all started with that Title IX crap. First, we had to start giving scholarships to women for soccer and lacrosse and all that nonsense. Then women started demanding to play sports the men played. Basketball, baseball — hell, there’s even women trying out for football teams now. Sports news today is filled with all this politics and protests and diversity stuff instead of box scores and football stats like it should be.”
To which Clare responds, “Welcome to the 21st century.” Rim shot!
Belsky’s not just funny; he has a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, including writing snappy New York repartee not seen since Susan Isaacson. Maybe these rare traits are due to his unusual work habits. He never writes at home. He prefers Starbucks, bars, the subway, “Anywhere there is a city vibe, noise and energy.” Take this scene, for example. Clare has a long wait for the bus, then four arrive at once. As she boards, she baits the driver:
“What’s the matter … You afraid to travel around the city by yourself?”
“…That’s what I like about this job,” he grunted. “You meet such interesting people. You got any other complaints, lady?”
“How about the air conditioning on this bus?”
“How about it? It’s working, isn’t it?”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“The problem is it’s December.”
In between, Belsky tosses off one-liners like, “The night turned out to be a slow one on my social calendar… So I had dinner with an old friend. Fellow named Stouffers.” There’s even a mild Bill Cosby joke. (Great sitcom family. Look how that turned out.)
FROM DEEP EXPERIENCE COMES AUTHENTICITY
Before leaving journalism in 2014, when he got a book contract, Belsky was a top editor at the New York Post, New York Daily News, Star Magazine and NBC News. He worked with legendary columnist Pete Hammill and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. He covered sensational crimes such as the Jon Benet Ramsey case, Ted Bundy, Casey Anthony, Etan Patz’s disappearance, John Lennon’s murder and the “Son of Sam” aka David Berkowitz.
It’s no surprise, then, that his newsroom patter feels so authentic, such as when the station staff sizes up a celebrity who turns out to be the opposite of her image as “America’s sweetheart”:
“Nice people, huh?”
“Money corrupts,” Clare said. “It’s the root of all evil.”
Someone laughed. “I wouldn’t know. I work for Channel 10 News.”
And as for the fate of that trophy wife? You’ll have an entertaining time watching Clare get to the bottom of it.
Learn more about Belsky on his BookTrib author profile page.
MORE R.G. BELSKY
TV Newswoman Pursues Elusive Serial Killer in “The Last Scoop”
“Below the Fold” and Into the Fray in Investigative Thriller
Author R.G. Belsky Explores the Female Serial Killer in ‘Blonde Ice’
Watch Interview with R.G. Belsky and “Shooting for the Stars”