Books

Follow up on 'The Scarecrow'

I've now read and thoroughly enjoyed Michael Connelly's latest book. In today's Times review, Tim Rutten calls "The Scarecrow" Connelly's best since "The Poet," and also the first novel to deal with the end stage of the newspaper culture that spawned the author. (The main character, Jack McEvoy, is an L.A. Times reporter who gets laid off and pursues his final big story throughout the book.) Rutten goes on to explain the origins of the term "velvet coffin" once applied to the Times — it was a coinage of the late editor Jim Bellows — and gets in some commentary on what he calls the "downward spiral" of the paper where he has worked for three decades or so.

This paper was a big place when Connelly worked here and, despite the overlap, we never met. (Nowadays, with the staff less than half the size it was then, you can pretty easily memorize all your colleagues' blood types.) Still, his success always has seemed one of the important coda to The Times' now vestigial tradition of attaching a special value to narrative journalism, to the way it nourished -- some would say indulged -- the talents that produced it and to the reputation it once enjoyed throughout the industry as "a writer's newspaper."

On theme: In the book, shortly after McEvoy gets laid off he receives a call from a Times-watching blog called thevelvetcoffin.com that's a fictionalized version of LA Observed. (Connelly emailed after my Monday post to say, "I think it's pretty obvious...") Near the end of the book, Connelly has thevelvetcoffin expand into investigative reporting, "to sort of pick up the clack where the Times drops the ball."

Future of publishing: A dozen of the websites mentioned in the book, including thevelvetcoffin, are live urls that take readers to bonus material


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