The Cutaway is a suspenseful murder mystery featuring a local nightly news producer. Virginia Knightly is engaged the first time she saw the “Missing” notice when Evelyn Carney disappeared. Knightly has an amazing memory for images, something that serves her well in her profession, and she is certain she has seen the missing woman somewhere.

Sure enough, she has, in a small cutaway, one of those crowd shots common in news stories, providing immediate reaction to a speaker by focusing momentarily on the people listening. There is a cutaway of her from an announcement about a rapist who had been active in Rock Creek Park. It is striking because her emotional expression is very different from the rest of the crowd.

Knightly’s investigation brings her back in touch with her ex, a police detective who is above all a player. Can she trust him? Certainly not personally, but can she trust him professionally? She also reaches out to the missing woman’s supervisor at her law firm, the formidable Paige, and to her former lover, Ian, whom the police have at the top of their suspect list.

Complicating her investigation, she has been demoted by a new news director and her longtime professional colleague Ben is seeking a closer, more romantic relationship. The news business is cutting back on talent in this new era of viral nonprofessional media and work relationships are tense and uncertain.

Kovacs’ sets the story in today’s D.C. and does it extremely well. There’s also some sly social commentary such as when some teen witnesses identify a shooter as white, but with further questioning, it’s clear they never saw the shooter’s skin. So how do they know? The shooter was open-carrying a handgun and they know from experience, no black man would open carry. “The Second Amendment? That shit is for white people.” In another scene, a man makes a pass, a gross one, and she smacks him down, and of course he calls her a bitch and she says a sentence most women have said a few times too many, “Like I’d never been called that before.”

I think The Cutaway is an excellent novel and a great beginning for what I hope will become a series featuring Virginia Knightly. First, Knightly is smart. Although she puts herself in some personal jeopardy, it was not through recklessness. If she hears a noise in the basement in any future books, she is not going to creep down the stairs in high heels. She takes a mag lite with her, a heavy one.

The mystery is fair. There is no examining of files that lead her to go “Aha, that explains it” without telling us what that is. It’s a first person narrative, we’re in her head and we know what she knows. The mystery revolves around important current political issues, but rather than being “ripped from the headlines” they are transformed into new angles, so it’s original, but completely plausible.

Kovac’s experience as a news journalist infuses the novel with realism. There’s specificity about setting up shots and producing the news that do not further the investigation or the story, but they provide grounding and credibility. They make the story more real. This is a D.C. novel and, of course, the politicking will sometimes nauseate readers, but it rings true to people who follow politics closely.

I like Virginia Knightly. I want her to do well in her job, have a happy life, and solve more mysteries. I also want her childhood in foster homes to be the source of strength it sometimes was in this story. Most of the protagonists in mystery series are troubled and sabotage their relationships. I have a feeling that is the way Virginia is going…it would be great if she avoided that trope.

If you like complex, fast-paced mysteries that feature a smart, competent woman, I think you will enjoy The Cutaway very much, especially as the layers upon layers of deceit are peeled back.

The Cutaway will be released March 21st. I received an advance e-galley from the publisher through NetGalley.

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