cover image A Firing Offense

A Firing Offense

David Ignatius. Random House (NY), $3.99 (333pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44860-0

Just how far will a journalist go to get a story? What happens when he crosses the line from observer to newsmaker? Those questions are at the heart of this smart thriller, in which reporter and narrator Eric Truell's every action forces him into a moral dilemma involving the conflict between the private and the public good. Beginning with the funeral of respected New York Mirror reporter Arthur Bowman, Truell tells the story behind Bowman's death, which is also the story of how Truell started painting himself into an ethical corner. A hostage situation in a French restaurant leads Truell to contact a CIA source, who hooks him up with disaffected agent Rupert Cohen. Wanting to parlay his government experience into a reporter's job, Cohen feeds Truell secrets, and the moral stakes keep rising. Truell finds himself in the thick of the downfall of a French government, a senator's forced withdrawal from the U.S. presidential race, and a laboratory in Beijing where a deadly new biological weapon is being developed. Truell's actions become more and more catalytic, and less and less objective. Using a cleverly detailed plot, Ignatius (Agents of Innocence) makes it very clear that journalists are in truth newsmakers, whether they know it or not, and that their high-minded claims of objectivity blind them to their complicity in the events they report. Thanks to great writing and an all-too-human protagonist, the preaching is kept to a minimum, but the sermon--about good journalism and bad, truth and lies--is there in bold letters. You can easily understand why Paramount Pictures and Tom Cruise scooped up this thriller for more than a million dollars. Just say a prayer that they don't pave over the moral quagmire with easy answers. Major ad/promo; simulataneous Random House audio; author tour. (May)