Off the Air

A journalist's thrill of breaking a high-profile news story and the relentless rivalry among media outlets make a formidable backdrop for Off the Air, Christina Estes's spirited debut and the winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize.

Jolene Garcia, a reporter for Phoenix's Channel 4 Eyewitness News, desperately wants to move from general assignments, where she might cover the zoo's baby giraffe or a dust storm, to special projects, such as her well-received segment on the working conditions of park rangers. These projects require more research but garner extra airtime. But her insistence on getting it right, rather than quickly, means she often gets scooped by other reporters while simultaneously running afoul of her station's demand for instantaneous news coverage. Jolene gets the chance to prove her mettle in covering the story of popular, controversial radio host Larry Lemmon's murder. Jolene finds no lack of suspects as she digs into Larry's life, but she also has to handle the increased competition with other media outlets.

Estes affords Jolene and her co-workers an authentic camaraderie, showing that true friendships can grow in times of extreme stress. She shapes Jolene as a dedicated journalist, determined to rise above her humble background, one that includes foster care. As an award-winning journalist herself, Estes also offers an insightful view of the challenges of multimedia journalism. The mystery sometimes gets lost amid the machinations of news gathering in her novel, but Jolene proves an investigative reporter can be a valuable sleuth as she uses her expert knowledge of Phoenix's landscape to her benefit. Off the Air's strong outing is deserving of a sequel. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

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