Sign Off

By P.A. McLinn
Published on July 25, 2012
Published by Bell Bridge Books
Source: Netgalley
The last time anyone in Cottonwood County, Wyoming saw Sheriff’s Deputy Foster Redus, he was bloody, cussing, and driving his pimped-out pickup into the November darkness. A week before Christmas, rancher Thomas David Burrell was arrested for the assault and charged with the deputy’s murder, since neither Redus nor his truck had been seen since the Monday after Thanksgiving.

The prosecutor later set Burrell free due to insufficient evidence, but with the whole county still suspecting him of the crime, his ex-wife refused to let their daughter Tamantha visit him anymore.

Until a few months ago, Elizabeth "E.M.” Danniher investigated high crimes and national cases. Now, a messy divorce from her network-TV-exec husband, combined with her no-longer-quite-perky-enough sex appeal, has banished her to Wyoming, where she has to fulfill the remainder of her contract. She handles the "Helping Out” segment at Sherman, Wyoming’s only news station. Her latest assignment: assisting an elderly woman who wants her faulty toaster replaced.

But Tamantha needs her, and so Elizabeth goes back on the crime beat, trying to unravel the mystery of the missing deputy and track down a killer who intends to make sure she doesn’t live to go Live At Five with the scoop.
I don't read mysteries or crime novels as much as I'd like to, but it was nice to read one that wasn't set in a major city.  Maybe this is more common than I realize, but I feel like a lot of mystery novels are set in big places and don't often take advantage of the creepy sense of claustrophobia you can get from setting a story in a small community.  Sign Off does just that, transplanting reporter Elizabeth Danniher from New York to middle-of-nowhere, Wyoming.  It's a punishment for Elizabeth, courtesy her powerful ex-husband, but she's determined to make the best of it, even if she's reduced to doing fluff pieces until the end of her contract.

Elizabeth has a lot to learn about life in Sherman, Wyoming.  Everyone knows everyone else's business, and secrets are hard to keep buried.  She gets drawn into investigating the possible murder of Foster Redus, and pretty soon she learns that everyone is hiding something, and everyone has a motive.  With the help of Mike Paycik, a hometown boy and sports reporter who dreams of something more, Elizabeth works to untangle a very twisted web of lies, adultery, and family secrets.

I liked Elizabeth as a main character.  She was gutsy and bold without coming off as unlikable   She might not make too many friends in small-town Wyoming, but she never really reads as anything other than determined and strong-willed.  She's gruff, and she complains about her surroundings a lot, but at the end of the day, she does what's right, by the case and by herself.  And after her personal life crumbled, she's solely focused on rebuilding her career, which means that she's not out to make friends -- or more than friends -- in the first place.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book.  Sometimes I felt like there were a bit too many details and red herrings crammed in there which could have been whittled down a bit more.  It can be confusing at times -- there are a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of details to remember -- but untangling a murder plot that touches just about every corner of the town can be difficult.  But overall, I found myself invested in the outcome of the story, and kind of surprised at who the murderer turns out to be.  It was a real (virtual) page turner, and while it wasn't always packed with action, each scene raised new questions for the characters and the reader.  This is the first book in a series and with Elizabeth finally warming up to life in Wyoming, I'm curious to see what she winds up facing next.

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