The first novel by Carl Hiaasen's ace Miami Herald crime-reporter colleague John Katzenbach stars a reporter who stumbles onto the story of his life in Miami's mean season, July. (It was adapted as the Kurt Russell/Mariel Hemingway film The Mean Season.) Katzenbach's tale blazes with local color, and his depiction of the newspaper life is accurate, entertaining, and animated by an interesting dilemma: What does a newshound do when he becomes part of the story he's covering?
That's what happens to Malcolm Anderson of The Miami Journal. One day in 1975, fate hands him Page One material: a beautiful teenager found with the back of her head removed by a .45 bullet. Katzenbach takes us through the reporter's paces: eliciting quotes from the victim's family and friends (the girls at school wonder who'll replace the deceased on the cheerleading squad); getting great "art" for the photographer; negotiating the story's space, timing, and emphases with the city editor.
But this is no ordinary killing. The only thing worse than a dead teen is a dead teen with a note in her pocket reading, "Number One." Worse yet, Malcolm gets a call at his desk from the "Numbers Killer," who taunts him with an elliptical account of his tormented childhood and violent Vietnam experiences. As Malcolm desperately tries to deduce the killer's motives and prevent the next murder, he wrestles with the terrible question of his own complicity. The bad guy here is just OK, but the reporter is a very good character, and the novel well merits its Edgar Award nomination. --Tim Appelo