Start with full disclosure: Rosemary Herbert and I worked in the same corner of the Herald newsroom for seven years. She was the book review editor until we both left, in 2005. Now a freelance writer on the North Shore, she's out with a mystery, "Front Page Teaser," that draws on her days at the tabloid terror of Harrison Avenue.
Back in the 1990s, Herbert said with a laugh, a Herald editor told her, "We'll hire you on one condition: when you write about us, change our names."
As she notes, the Herald still had some old-timey newsroom flavor and colorful personalities, for better and worse. Turned out we each had a different model in mind for a character in the book, a columnist everyone wants to strangle as he "read his work-in-progress aloud to himself, so as to better appreciate the flow of his golden words."
But she says the book is intended as "a love song" to the newspaper life as it was "and I hope not an elegy."
"Front Page Teaser" tells the story of Liz Higgins, a lifestyle features writer for the pugnacious "Boston Banner" who's hoping to do better than a teaser with her investigation of the mysterious disappearance of a Newton housewife. Does the solution to the case lie in a hint of a terror connection or closer to home? She'll do anything to get answers - including swiping possible evidence from a murder scene, which even the most hardened newshound would not do today. I hope.
Herbert does a good job with Herald-style headlines. When a Newton mayor's Hanukkah dance with some schoolkids is interrupted by bad news, the Banner's "wood" the next day is HORA HORROR. Sounds about right. There is much less cursing in the Banner newsroom than the Herald's, though.
Those of you concerned about fairness should note that the broadsheet "Boston World" also comes in for a few jabs.
Herbert wasn't a newspaper person when she joined the Herald, but the opportunity was hard to resist, both as job and as future mystery fodder. The editor who hired her also told her, "You will get acquainted with your city in a way that you never will as an ordinary citizen."
Rosemary is a mystery maven already, as the Edgar-nominated editor of "The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing," among others. She also collaborated with the late legend Tony Hillerman to assemble and edit "A New Omnibus of Crime," now out in a new paperback edition. But this is her first novel, born over a year of Sundays, when she could carve time out of her schedule as the mother of three daughters.
Herbert met Hillerman when she covered an author event at Kate's Mystery Books in Cambridge. She was putting together a book of interviews with mystery writers and ended up flying out to Albuquerque to interview him at home. He passed along some advice: "The biggest tip he gave me was about how to make the reader feel a sense of suspense...you've got to put the reader into the character's body and have them feel everything that the character is feeling."
There's also romance in "Front Page Teaser." When Liz starts falling for forensics guy Dr. Cormac Kennaird, she finds her way to the Green Briar Irish Pub in Brighton, where he shows his softer side while trying to learn the Iish tenor banjo during music seisun nights. Now the Green Briar is hosting a book party for "Front Page Teaser" on Monday, from 7 to closing. Free munchies, cash bar, music, book signing - all open to the public and free except for the booze and the books. Rosemary says come on down. The Green Briar is at 304 Washington St., Brighton.