Book Review: Follow an ageing reporter through the murky world of tabloid journalism in Craig Sherborne’s Off The Record

Callum Smith, the Wordsmith, ‘Words’ for short, is a journalist of the old school. An expert manipulator, he spends his days flirting, drinking, and chasing stories. But when his wife leaves him, Words’ devotion to the big story begins to spiral out of control. Desperate to keep her and his son in his life, he’ll do anything to stay on top of the game. Anything.

But Words underestimates his opponents and his subjects, showing a man wildly out of touch with the world around him – and that’s definitely not a good look for a journalist. He postures and preens, dispensing wisdom when he thinks it’s needed, and holding back when he wants the byline for himself. Certain of his skewed worldview, there’s a perverse delight in watching Words work, and an even greater one in watching him unravel, making Off The Record a curious mix of enjoyable and uncomfortable.

In Words, Craig Sherborne has crafted a lead character so thoroughly unlikeable, you’ll spend each and every page waiting for him to get a much deserved punch in the face (it happens towards the end and, yes, it’s very satisfying). Manipulative, underhanded, and often bordering on unstable, Words’ quest for the next big story takes readers to some morally ambiguous and really quite unpleasant places. Stealing stories from other journalists and building smear campaigns, Words’ planned masterpiece sees him plot to get himself thrown in jail, a martyr for the journalistic cause.

Darkly humourous at times, cringingly corrupt at others, Off The Record places the reader in the mind of a morally bankrupt lead character, making them complicit in his desperate attempts to stay relevant in a changing world. And with author Sherborne’s background in journalism, you’ll be left wondering just how many of Words’ methods would have tabloid journos sharing a knowing grin. A smug satire of old school journalism and male pride, Off The Record will have you squirming in your seat.

Off the Record is available now through Text Publishing.