Given that today is Labor Day, one that many (though I’m aware not all) of us have off, I thought it would be fun to highlight a book that examines another career: that of news reporting. Few other professions result in us feeling that we “know” a person more than that of one who covers events big and small and brings them into our living rooms via TV and internet-connected screens.
So as it happened, I came across a book by Amanda Lamb, a crime reporter for WRAL News. The story, called Dead Last, follows Maddie Arnette, who had also been a crime reporter but moved into features reporting where she profiles silly animal stories after her husband’s death.
As it opens, Maddie just happens to see a woman collapse onto the ground while running the Oak City Marathon. I should note that the story takes place in the North Carolina Triangle, though the towns are given fictional names. Anyone from this area will enjoy pondering which real towns most closely fit the descriptions given.
Maddie’s story becomes a lot more complicated as she entangles herself with the woman, Suzanne, after visiting her in the hospital. It turns out that Suzanne is afraid for her life as she fears her husband, who is a well-liked doctor but may also have a dark side, is attempting to kill her. Maddie feels that she should not become involved, especially as serious questions arise about the veracity of Suzanne’s story, but her own background with domestic violence (she lost a mother to it) compels er to at least assist Suzanne in discerning the truth.
I liked many elements in this story, but my favorite parts involved what life was like as a news reporter. Maddie makes one statement that floored me, as it hit so specifically close to home. I’m paraphrasing here, as finding the exact quote in the audiobook (narrated by the author as it were) would be difficult: Sometimes I feel like being a reporter is like being an assembly line worker, packing sticks into a box and throwing them onto a conveyor belt. Well anyone who has followed this blog knows that this is exactly what I do, box sticks and throw them onto a belt. So that thought made me chuckle.
I also laughed at the references to 70’s-era detective shows that we see in her inside cop friend, and as previously noted at the names given to the book’s towns. For example, Oak city? Well Raleigh, our state capital, is also known as the city of oaks.
These moments of levity aside, the book tackles serious topics in a way that really makes one think. How do we decide whom and when to believe as potentially dangerous situations unfold. How do we define friendship, and what happens when we feel we and our profession might be used in ways we don’t want.
Lamb has written nine books, mostly about true crime, but this is her first novel. She says, as the subtitle “A Maddie Arnette Novel” indicates, that this will be part of a series with the second book in editing and the third already underway. So we can look forward to more of this deeply introspective and powerful character. The entire story is told from her first-person point of view, lending a depth to it that might not have come otherwise. I would recommend checking it out, and especially Lamb’s audio narration as she of course knows how and why Maddie responds in certain ways. I mean how many other news reporters do you know who have written novels too?
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