As this is posted, it’s 44 years since the publication of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s All the President’s Men. As you’ll know, these journalists were instrumental in uncovering the Watergate scandal that ended up bringing down Richard Nixon’s presidency.
Woodward and Bernstein’s exposé was one of the more famous in journalism, but it’s hardly been the only one. Journalists and other writers have been doing exposés for a long time, both before and since All the President’s Men was published. Fictional characters have done that sort of writing, too. Whether such characters are sleuths, victims, or play another role, they’re woven into the crime fiction. And it’s interesting to see how those exposés and the people who work on them are depicted in the genre.
In Gail Bowen’s The Endless Knot, we are introduced to Canadian journalist Kathryn Morrissey. She has written a controversial exposé on the way that several wealthy and celebrated Canadians treat their children. In doing so, she strips away the ‘nice, perfect’ lives these people seem to have. And, she upsets a lot of people. In fact, one of them, Sam Parker, is so incensed by the book that he shoots at, and wounds, Morrissey. He’s arrested, and hires prominent attorney Zack Shreve to defend him. It’s not going to be an easy case; after all, there’s no question that Parker shot Morrissey. But Shreve is a gifted lawyer. Among other things, the novel raises interesting questions about journalism, exposés, and the limits of what’s published.
Kel Robertson’s Smoke and Mirrors begins as Australian Federal Police (AFP) detective Bradman ‘Brad’ Chen is lured back to police work after some time away. Alec Dennet, a member of Gough Whitlam’s 1972-1975 government, has been found murdered. He was visiting a writer’s retreat, Uriarra, located near Canberra, to work on his memoirs. Also there was his editor, Lorraine Starke, who’s also been killed. The police soon discover that Dennet’s manuscript is missing. This leads Chen and his team to suspect that something in the manuscript triggered the murders, and that’s not out of the question. It was said that Dennet’s book was to be, among other things, an exposé that might very well embarrass some highly-placed people. It was also said that the manuscript was going to reveal the truth about the alleged conspiracy that brought down the Whitlam government. Chen and his team reason that, if they can find out who took the manuscript, they might find out who the killer is. As it turns out, the case is more complicated than that. As the AFP team look into the matter, we get an interesting look at the impact that exposés can have.
Paddy Richardson’s Cross Fingers features Wellington journalist Rebecca Thorne. She’s been working very hard on an exposé of dubious land developer Denny Graham. He’s got both money and influence, so it’s not easy to find people who are willing to talk to her about him. Even people who aren’t intimidated by Graham’s status don’t exactly want it to be public knowledge that they’ve been swindled. Thorne has finally gotten a few people who are willing to be interviewed when her boss sends her on a different course. It’s soon to be the 30th anniversary of the 1981 Springboks (South Africa’s rugby team) tour of New Zealand. Often simply called ‘The Tour,’ this event was controversial. At the time, South Africa still had a strict policy of apartheid, and plenty of New Zealanders didn’t want the team to visit for that reason. Others wanted to watch the rugby. And the police simply wanted to keep order. There were clashes and confrontations, and Thorne’s boss wants her to do a piece on the tour. Thorne isn’t interested, mostly because she doesn’t see any new angle on the story. She also doesn’t want to lose her tenuous hold on the people willing to talk about Denny Graham. Then, she finds a unique angle on the tour story, and ends up looking into a 30-year-old murder.
Christopher Brookmyre’s Quite Ugly One Morning introduces his protagonist, Jack Parlabane. As the novel begins, Parlabane’s just returned to his native Edinburgh from Los Angeles. He wakes up one morning to the sound of a loud commotion. Wondering what’s going on, he leaves his flat and goes down the stairs to the one below. Then, he remembers that he’s closed his door, locking himself out of his home. His plan is to go into the downstairs flat, go through a window there, and re-enter his own flat through the corresponding window in it. When he goes into the downstairs flat, though, he finds the body of a man who’s obviously been murdered. Parlabane’s an investigative journalist, so he is curious. But he’s also smart enough to know that he doesn’t want to be caught at the scene of a crime. He’s making his way towards the window when the police, in the form of Detective Constable (DC) Jenny Dalziel find him. Partly to clear himself, and partly because of his curiosity, Parlabane gets involved in the investigation – and ends up doing an exposé that involves health care, politics, and government.
And then there’s Claire McGowan’s The Lost, which introduces her protagonist, forensic psychologist Paula Maguire. In the novel, Maguire travels from London back to her hometown of Ballyterrin, Northern Ireland. She’s to be part of a new Cold Case team that’s finally been funded. Their first case involves some girls who have gone missing, and the team gets right to work. The trail leads to some secrets that some well-respected people would much rather keep quiet. Along the way, Maguire meets up again with her old flame, Aidan O’Hara, who edits the local paper. He’s used to doing very safe ‘fluff’ stories, but he gets his chance at an exposé with this case.
Exposés can be interesting. When they’re accurately done, they can shed important light on things that are happening, too – things people should know. And writers who do exposés can make for interesting fictional characters.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Jason Robert Brown.