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The Bloody Spur
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When I was following the coverage of the Boston bombing, as newspapers and television networks battled to break every new revelation first -- sometimes even trying to play detective and identify the culprits and failing miserably -- I was eerily reminded of the book I'd just finished reading, Charles Einstein's The Bloody Spur.

The 1953 Dell paperback original, filmed by Frtiz Lang as While the City Sleeps, isn't a western. The title's "spur" refers to a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. As the blurb explains, after a serial killer has struck again....

" the city room of the fabulous Kyne News empire, four big-time newsmen went into action. All four knew that an exclusive beat on the killings would mean the top job at Kyne -and they were all hungry for that job. Hungry enough to buck the police, sell out their mistresses, and commit blackmail. Four decent men - corrupted by the bloody spur of ambition."

Though the story revolves around efforts to capture a serial killer, the book isn't a detective novel either. There's plenty of speculation about the identity of the psychopath but Einstein, a newspaperman and sportswriter, concentrates mostly on the newspaper drama. He throws the reader into the fog of war in a big city newsroom during a breaking story.

I found the details of the business circa 1950 fascinating in themselves, everything from how to write a headline to how to arrange print runs for different editions according to how many trucks would be available. The frenzy to beat the competition by putting a story on the wire five minutes ahead or hitting the streets with an extra in the morning rather than the afternoon, was on display, in its 21st century version, last week.

Most important, however, are the maneuverings of the high powered executives, their allies and enemies, in the battle to be appointed successor to the newly deceased executive director. As the book progresses the professional and personal entanglements become so complicated I needed to keep a character list. The newspaper men are almost as driven and tormented as the warped killer they each hope to be the first to reveal.

By the end of the book, the winner of the executive director contest won't surprise anyone who is even vaguely aware of how corporate personnel decisions are really made.

The Bloody Spur has everything covered -- the streets, the offices, the bars and bedrooms. The novel is densely written and plotted, and the characters are painfully realistic and mostly unlikeable, but it's a classic.

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