Fans of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series and Christina Kovac’s The Cutaway will want to grab a copy of Off The Air, the debut novel by Christina Estes. Like those other novels, Estes makes her reporter—Jolene Garcia—the voice of the narrative, but in many ways, she takes this idea of the journalistic procedural and centers it as the nucleus of her novel. Thereby giving readers unfettered access to the behind-the-scenes quandaries facing today’s media outlets.

Off the Air opens as Jolene Garcia and her colleague Nate Thompson hear news of a death at KFRK radio station. Once on the scene, they quickly learn that controversial, conservative radio pundit, Larry Lemmon, is dead—the result of a possible poisoning. (Readers will not doubt be reminded of some prominent newsmakers from recent years.)

What follows is an impeccably structured narrative in which Jolene documents her efforts to investigate the death by interviewing key witnesses, calling in favors from secret sources, and in some cases accidentally discovering new angles related to the case. Jolene’s efforts to maintain her journalistic integrity are juxtaposed by the ever-shifting requirements of her superiors—namely, scoop the competition, leverage any advantage, make the coverage “sexy,” and do it all with constantly diminishing resources.

Any readers interested in the current state of media journalism will find the behind-the-scenes information compelling. While the flaws in the system are no longer “hidden,” seeing how they actually affect the reporting of a story—albeit a fictional one—brings it home in a way that a simple non-fiction accounting of the state of media rarely can.

Off the Air is set in Arizona, so along the way Christina Estes drops breadcrumbs about real stories and scandals that have plagued the state. This may seem of more interest to locals, but in fact serves to call to mind similar incidents that happen throughout the United States, so readers will be able to connect even if they somehow missed these specific news stories. Not surprisingly, both these regional, local color, tidbits and the main narrative case touch on timely topics of interest to citizens invested in the political divides across our country and around the world.

Jolene Garcia—and yes, she was named after the Dolly Parton song—is a formidable central character with whom many readers will relate. Christina Estes imbues her with enough complexity to make her the star of a series of crime novels, while also surrounding her with endlessly fascinating side characters—both friend and foe—which she can leverage in later books.

The competitive world of broadcasting, the shifting importance of social media, and balance between “news” and “commentary” give Off the Air a sense of relevancy and timeliness, but the main character of Jolene Garcia and her team ground the narrative in the traditional mystery genre, proving that everything old can be new again when viewed from a unique vantage point. Dive in now because Christina Estes’ series has only just gotten started.

BUY LINKS: Off the Air by Christina Estes

Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.