October 8, 2009
“Every reporter worth his or her notepad is a sleuth at heart. Paul McHugh brings this truth to life with crackling suspense and a true, ink-stained veteran’s eye for the newsroom.”
It’s come to this; the fate of newspapers is itself news, consuming more and more of the ever-shrinking number of pages that are willingly delivered to your front yard every morning. At least, I hope they are. I truly start every day by reading The San Francisco Chronicle while I eat a hot breakfast. This assures me both the mental a physical wherewithal to make it through the next 16 hours.
Paul McHugh spent more than 20 years writing and editing for The San Francisco Chronicle. One might truly say that he knows where the bodies are buried. And, given that knowledge, it’s bracing to know that his first novel, ‘Deadlines’ (Low Coast Press / Cypress House ; February 13, 2010 ; $16.95) is a mystery featuring a grizzled veteran news reporter who is bestirred into action when an unburied body shows up on a typically scenic California shoreline. But there’s more at work here than land-grabs and real-estate scams. The real mystery to be solved is what is happening to America’s newspapers.
McHugh’s approach to mystery writing is — not surprisingly — journalistic. You start with the murder of a land-use activist. Sebastian Palmer is the young reporter in pursuit of her story, and thus, the killers as well. He befriends Elle Jatobá — who hopes to become a cop — and the two of them begin poking into the Cornu Point problem under the disinterested eye of Colm MacCay, the grizzled veteran who bestirs himself when Palmer ends up comatose. Clearly, there is more going on at Cornu Point than habitat preservation. Real estate is not priceless. But the reporters looking into the death of Beverly Bancroft will face all the perils of the investigation with none of the powers of the police. And the cops themselves are not so hot on the trail.
McHugh brings three levels of authenticity to ‘Deadlines.’ Narrated in the first person by Colm MacCay, ‘Deadlines’ offers an authentic newsman’s voice to tell the story. The prose is not that of a breathless or brainless thriller, but rather, that of a man who has seen and written about a lifetime of San Francisco news. ‘Deadlines’ reads like a particularly gripping newspaper story where real-estate speculation and land-use issues escalate into murder. It’s fascinating to see events from the newsman’s eyes, and then read not just his words, but the words he writes for his newspaper. It’s a neat meta-fictional trick. And McHugh knows how to pace his story as well, as journalistic piece, which means that ‘Deadlines’ is not just another cheesy page-turner, but a welcome insight into how newspapers themselves are written.
The meat of the matter here — the buying and selling of the California coastline — is also something of which McHugh knows whereof he speaks. In his years working for The San Francisco Chronicle, McHugh himself investigated events that bore no small similarity to those in his novel. He knows the political, business and environmental climate well enough to create crime fiction where the motives and emotional ties are authenticâ€”and he knows how a veteran columnist would write of these events. And finally, McHugh has a front-row seat on the biggest mystery here, though many contend there is no mystery whatsoever when it comes to the Case of the Disappearing American Newspaper. We see what is happening from the inside, in an unvarnished portrait of the day-to-day issues that keep reporters’ feet on the street — and profits remain perpetually just around the corner. This is the kind of research that you just can’t accomplish in a couple of days (or for that matter, years) with search engines. And this is the kind of story that can best be told as fiction. If you need to read the facts of the matter, Id suggest subscribing to your local newspaper, before it too ends up as a story in another newspaper.
“Paul McHugh’s new “novel of murder, conspiracy, and the media” is “Dead Lines,” which is set in San Francisco and environs, especially those nestled against the Pacific Ocean. Louis’, which overlooks the old Sutro Baths, is mentioned; also Duarte’s, down the road a spell in Pescadero.
“And also Tu Lan, just a block away from The Chronicle. McHugh worked here for 22 years, and the book, in his words, is not only a murder story but also a “celebration of what a newsroom is like when it’s running at full steam.” He’ll be at Book Passage in Corte Madera on February 13.”
“The themes of Paul McHugh’s companionable, rock-solid and soul-satisfying mystery ‘Deadlines’ could not be more modern and relevant. But it is his wonderful character, the has-been alcoholic newspaper columnist Colm MacCay, who will stay with you, and who channels McHugh’s considerable writing talent into a voice that surprises and delights with all the narrative panache of the classic Irish storyteller. ‘Deadlines’ is a superior story, not to be missed.”
John Lescroart, NY Times best-selling author
“With Deadlines, Paul McHugh nails the desperation of new-millennium newsrooms and the quirky crusaders of the Bay Area. He also has a lot of fun with the unlikely culprits in this land-and-money murder mystery. As you learn from very first page, Deadlines is not a ‘who’ done it but a ‘why and how will our heroes find out’ done it. The fact that those heroes are journalists, and that McHugh’s prose uses humor to great effect, are welcome twists indeed.”
Farai Chideya, Author, “Kiss the Sky” and “The Color of Our Future”
“People who love San Francisco and appreciate a good mystery will find Paul McHugh’s ‘Deadlines’ a page-turner with unforgettable characters and a realistic view of crime. Mchugh creates an eccentric figure who epitomizes an endangered species – a reporter who can connect the dots. My wife Beverly and I couldn’t put it down.
Sheriff Mike Hennessey, City and County of San Francisco
“A cheerful romp through quite serious territory.”
Tony Miksak, Words on Books
“I love Colm MacCay, the unlikely hard-drinking protagonist as much as I do David Skibbins’ bi-polar, tarot-card reading Warren Ritter. A big plus, too; revisiting San Francisco, Half Moon Bay and points south, places I know so well. But best of all is the story itself. I was riveted!”
Joel Crockett, Four-Eyed Frog Books
“Paul McHugh’s ‘Deadlines’ is an entertaining tale that concisely captures life in a big-city newsroom. In fact, this amusing novel is more than a murder mystery. It’s a portrait of metropolitan journalism amid its time of troubles.”
Pete Carey, San Jose Mercury News