Sign Off

Sign Off_PatriciaMcLinn_16053610



Less than a year ago, E. M. Danniher had been an internationally known TV journalist for a major New York station and had been married for many years to a top executive for the network with which her station was affiliated. Now, Elizabeth Margaret Danniher is neither employed by that station nor married. As she has discovered, her divorce decree not only ended her marriage, it also ended her career.

Blindsiding her with the divorce petition and not content to just end their years together and move on, her husband forced a buyout of her half of their primary residence, forced their mutual professional agent to release her, forced the sale of her beloved cottage and found a legal loophole that allowed him to delay payment of the sale proceeds to her. And he used his position with the network to force their affiliate to take away her job. What he didn’t do was buy out the remaining few months of her contract. Instead, he used the provisions of that contract to force her into a job with the smallest affiliate their network had.

Now, with only six months remaining on her contract, E. M. Danniher finds herself thousands of miles away from her old life. Her job is now in Sherman, Wyoming, situated near the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. And her new job is that of consumer affairs advocate, a position in which she reports on various scams and helps local consumers resolve difficulties with retailers. A far cry from the type of work she is used to doing, she now hosts a twice weekly segment called “Helping Out,” is assigned no other duties whatsoever, and is generally treated as a pariah by most of her co-workers.

But Tamantha Burrell’s neighbor has watched that segment, is impressed and has told Tamantha about it. So Tamantha, all of 8 years old, started watching it, too. And when her second grade class takes a tour of the television studio one day, about a month after E. M.’s arrival, Tamantha seeks out E. M. and orders her to advocate for her against her mother. According to Tamantha, her mother wants to end the joint custody agreement with Tamantha’s father and prevent her from ever seeing her father again.

But this is not just some simple domestic dispute where one parent is using a child in anger against the other. It seems that Thomas David Burrell was arrested nearly six months ago in conjunction with the disappearance and possible murder of a local sheriff’s deputy, Foster Redus, following a fight between the two. With insufficient evidence to charge Burrell (no body has yet been found), the county prosecutor has him released. But it’s a small town and lots of people think he’s guilty, particularly since Redus was having an affair with Burrell’s ex-wife. Not that most people really care whether Redus is dead or not. He was a bad cop, a bully, and most people are glad he’s gone. But they are not “glad” enough to relish living in close quarters with a suspected murderer.

E. M. does not exactly agree to help Tamantha, but the station’s sportscaster, Mike Paycik, has overheard the exchange. An admirer of Tom Burrell’s abilities and ethics since their childhood, Paycik appeals to E. M.’s investigative journalism background and badgers her into a cursory investigation of the disappearance.

With both her personal and professional confidence beaten down by her ex-husband’s vindictiveness, E. M. is at a crossroads. She must shortly decide whether she will try to resume her past career in another prime market or sign off as a TV news reporter for the last time. But flaring up through the hurt of her recent past and the humiliation of her present circumstances is a flicker of the fire that she used to feel when something was hiding under a rock and needed to be flushed out.

Patricia McLinn has written a tale about seeking the truth even when one fears its content, about telling the truth even when editing would be easier, and about accepting the truth even if one doesn’t like that truth. Scene after scene, McLinn applies these concepts to E. M.’s emotional self-awareness as well as her professional tactics, without preaching or beating the characters over their proverbial heads. There is no blinding epiphany for E. M. Just as she and Paycik systematically follow the leads, discovering and exposing the layers and webs of deceit surrounding Redus, the very act of investigating a story for the sole benefit of another systematically exposes the webs of her pain to the air to heal.

Written in first-person POV, E. M.’s internal monologues are sharp, snappy and often hilarious. When situations become tense, even to the point of danger, those monologues remain sharp but the snappiness and hilarity are replaced by intelligent questioning. Her spoken dialogue is crisp but natural and shows her adaptability and capacity to think on her feet. McLinn has created in E. M. a female protagonist who is flawed but likable, never silly or cartoonish, and definitely not made of cardboard.

This smoothness of characterization extends to others in the storyline also. While we are not privy to anyone else’s thoughts, McLinn tailors the dialogue to each character’s distinct personality and social standing. Her accompanying physical descriptions of persons and places are realistic and easy to visualize.

From the first use of the phrase “tick-tock” to the final reference to Abe Lincoln’s good-looking cousin, McLinn has written an exciting and well-crafted murder mystery, a tale that draws you in page by page. The violence included is neither gratuitous nor graphic. And there is not even one single scene with sexual content, not even a scene with implied sexual content. But rest assured, romantic tension exists. In fact, the lack of lust-at-first-sight is both part of the psychological make-up of the story and a refreshing departure from the concept that it takes titillating sex to make a story saleable.

And it was incredibly refreshing to read a story in which a powerful and intelligent journalist places truth above ratings and justice above career. Ah, if only life would imitate art!

Cover Art from Goodreads


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