Very often have critics suggested Arthur Hailey’s use of sensationalism as a way to wean away the readers’ attention from a lack of literary acumen. But then the author himself never claimed that he aimed for anything more than the stupendous success he achieved with every book of his. His books have sold more than 170 million copies worldwide across 40 languages. Now, you would not complain that, would you?
I recently read Arthur Hailey’s second last book, The Evening News which he penned in 1990. Like all his other works, this book also focuses on one particular industry that affects our lives in multifarious ways – the news-casting and media industry being the case here. The story starts off with a spate of confounding introductions of many characters and at first it is hard to fathom who the protagonist is. Crawford Sloane is a lead anchorman at CBA news and is a very well known face in the American household. Harry Patridge has the reputation of being an excellent reporter and is known for getting to the root of a story, even if it means risking his own life. Both Sloane and Patridge have worked together for the CBA news during the Vietnam War, where their different methods of following and reporting a story is discernible. Both are well adored across the populace, so, expectedly, there is a competitively strained relationship between the two successful news-casters exaggerated by the fact that Sloane’s wife Jessica is Patridge’s former lover. Thus, Arthur Hailey, once again, manages to intertwine the characters in a perplexingly connected, yet strangely believable, web of relationships. It is this ability of his that makes his painstaking research into his subject matter blend well into the plot’s background.
What follows, is that Sloane’s son, wife (Jessica) and his father are kidnapped (yes, the event around which the story revolves!) by a Peruvian organisation called Sendoro Luminoso (The Shining Path) funded by the drug trade. Hailey makes the claim by the CBA news president, that the media houses have often been more successful in unravelling the mysterious terror plots that the FBI and other purportedly useless government intelligence agencies, seem plausible by the painstaking details that he provides to bolster any exaggerated instance. Thus begins an untiring search by the specially-prepared CBA investigative team. This investigation is played parallel with the happenings in Peru, where the kidnappers, led by Miguel, are successful in sneaking the victims out to in carefully selected coffins.
The incompetence of FBI and other investigative agencies is blatantly depicted, making one wonder if reality is far from it. All the breakthroughs in the investigation are achieved by the CBA’s investigative team, and none by the FBI, who are also in on the case. The novel turns lurid in the second half when two fingers of Sloane’s son and the severed head of Sloane’s father is sent to Crawford Sloane to make him and others realize the gravity of the demands made by the unrelenting kidnappers who seem to be very well connected. Harry Patridge, with a small team, heads to Peru, where their investigation eventually leads them. The climax includes a sensational, yet utterly believable, rescue of the victims, complemented by the kidnappers’ complacent attitude, from the captor’s den which is situated deep in the jungles of Peru. As expected, not all rescuers make it out of the profuse undergrowth of the Peruvian jungles. Some might consider this loss of one of the most impressionable protagonists as redundant or unnecessary. But in my opinion, it gives a certain adrenaline rush to an otherwise expected climax.
In all, the reader is left with an aching sense of loss at the end as the reunion of Jessica and her past lover Patridge is envisioned by the dreamy reader from the very beginning. But Hailey’s benumbing ability to ravel the plot belies his eccentric claims evident at some places. But overall, The Evening News makes for a gripping read, and if an intelligent plot and a quick paced narration is what you are looking for, this is the book for you.