Rx: THE CUTAWAY by Christina Kovac

Christina Kovac’s THE CUTAWAY is a political thriller with a feminist edge, but it is also a work of upmarket women’s fiction that will appeal to the book club set.

Virginia Knightly is a successful evening news producer, and in the decline of TV news, she must work every angle, both day and night, to reach rating goals and please a difficult boss. In her personal life, she struggles to reconcile her feelings for her estranged but dying father and come to terms with her isolated life as a single, workaholic woman living in DC.

Virginia becomes fixated on the missing persons case of Evelyn Carney, putting her life on hold to pursue leads and be the first to report the inside scoop. The case itself comes to represent the challenges Virginia faced as a woman working in the top ranks of network news, and breaking and helping to solve the story brings her the success and validation she has earned. Virginia tracks down a witness who has been hushed-up by the police, finds video footage revealing the motorcycle ridden by the killer, and earns the trust of Evelyn’s law professor and ex-lover, Bradley Hartnett. Although resulting in his murder, Hartnett tells Virginia that Evelyn was put unlawfully under surveillance but had entrusted him with documents, revealing an embezzlement scandal involving Evelyn’s boss and money donated through PACs.

Through Kovac’s carefully crafted plot, she keeps her readers guessing until eventually revealing the killer. Virginia shoots the money-making frames of the big arrest, spiking the station’s ratings and online hits, but she faces her biggest fears along the way—working with the man who broke her heart, forgiving her father for deserting her, defending herself against the violent killer, and coming to terms with her feelings for her co-worker and long-time friend, Ben.

Kovac has a beautifully descriptive voice that feels both familiar and unique, especially as she sets the scene: “you could get a buzz just standing there,” “the rumor of Chinese takeout,” “the ambulance that wasn’t going anywhere.” She also uses short staccato lines that really cut through the narrative, bringing the reader into the moment, and she has a way of creating witty banter between characters that feels real, not forced or premeditated.

I only had two major issues with the work. First, I think it’s unnecessary to describe Virginia as having a photographic memory. To me that device is overused and contrived. In Virginia’s line of work, the visuals that she holds on to seem completely natural, and I think it would be conceivable for her to remember the cutaway shot of Evelyn, considering it came from the Big Story the year before. Second, Kovac relies a little too much on second-hand accounts of conversations. She lets Virginia digest it and tell you about it rather than letting the conversation unfold on the page before you. I appreciated Virginia’s easy, likable internal dialogue showing you how a field worker’s mind works and creating a rapport with you as the reader. It does, however, take away from the development of other characters and feels as though you aren’t really in the moment with her.

Kovac’s compelling narrative and the determination of her main character reminded me most of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On the Train, but her goal as an author, exposing issues facing women today, reminds me of Gillian Flynn who strives to give a voice to female aggression and darkness in literature. Kovac’s novel will attract readers who enjoy the works of Liane Moriarty, Tana French, Chevy Stevens, Allen Eskens, and Alex Marwood.

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