Review: a Journalist for a Dying Paper Solves a Serial Murder

Willie Black, a 60-year-old multiracial reporter for a failing Richmond, Virginia, daily, covers the night-cop beat. He is an excessive drinker, smoker, and lover who is deeply committed to a line of work that has not been kind to him. He is also well-versed in the seedy side of his city.

Willie was initially presented by author Howard Owen, a former Virginia newspaperman himself, in “Oregon Hill” in 2012. In this underrated series of crime novels, book 12, the protagonist’s hold on the job is even more precarious than before.

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The demise of print journalism is a frequent issue in these books. Due to significant budget cuts and layoffs implemented by a rapacious, distant corporate owner, the newspaper to which Willie has dedicated his life seems to be about to fire him.

A reporter at a dying paper solves a serial murder
A reporter at a dying paper solves a serial murder

A plumber who has had his throat cut and one of his fingers amputated is discovered near the railroad lines in a sketchy area of Richmond as “Dogtown” begins. Willie finds the city he has a love/hate connection with has a serial murderer on its hands when two more victims are butchered in the same manner.

Willie, a persistent and accomplished investigative reporter, decides to put a stop to the reign of terror himself after the police investigation fails while also graciously mentoring a rookie reporter who is vying for his position. He battles an obstinate police chief, a morally dubious mayor, and even anti-vaxxers while working long hours without receiving overtime pay to bring the case to a startling conclusion.

Willie is a kind of archetype. An experienced reporter or two like him works for most newspapers in America, striving against all odds to hold public officials responsible while fighting to save his job and preserve the First Amendment. His eccentricities and scathing, mocking sense of humor is uniquely his own.

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The language is excellent, the grim plot is lightened with humor, and Willie’s eccentric group of friends and ex-wives are just as fascinating as always in an Owen book.

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