“The Newsroom meets Gone Girl” (Cosmopolitan) in this stunning psychological thriller featuring a young television producer investigating the disappearance of a beautiful Georgetown lawyer—perfect for fans of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn.
When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly, “a tenacious, lovable heroine” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t help but suspect that the lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister. When she realizes that she is the only one at her studio who seems to care, Knightly decides to investigate on her own.
Risking her career, her life, and perhaps even her own sanity, Knightly dives deep into the dark underbelly of Washington, DC business and politics in an investigation that will drag her mercilessly through the inextricable webs of corruption that bind the press, the police, and politics in our nation’s capital.
Harkening to dark thrillers such as Luckiest Girl Alive and Big Little Lies, The Cutaway is a ravishingly suspenseful thriller.
The Cutaway CHAPTER ONE IT BEGAN WITH someone else’s story. In the beginning, a woman went out to meet a man, and on her long walk, she disappeared. I didn’t know the woman. I’d never met her. But I could see her clearly in my mind, walking the streets of Georgetown, her heels striking the sidewalk to the percussive music booming out of city bars. That same path I’d traveled many times myself.
Her married name was Evelyn Carney. She’d been born a Sutton, small-town country club people hailing from the cold north. I didn’t discover much about her people, except they seemed to have no time for her or to care very much about what she did, and when she disappeared, gave a collective shrug. Had she fled them, or was she like so many other young women, women like me, who’d come to DC with dreams of making herself anew? She had none of the typical means to success in the District, no powerful sponsor or academic prowess or massive wealth. She had no family connections, either. But she had ambition and a powerful appeal to men, and she wasn’t afraid to use either.
I never figured out how that captured my sympathy, but somehow I got hooked by that first glimpse of her. My mind is devilishly quick to fasten itself to an image, and I should’ve been more careful. I’d certainly been warned. When I was a young and reverent girl making those gestures that good girls must make, my parish priest had told me: “Be careful what your eyes take in. What you see becomes a part of you.”
It might have been advice worth heeding, but I didn’t, not when I was a child or a cub reporter, or much later, a too-young executive producer playing with the power of pictures. By then, I was hip deep in my quest for Evelyn Carney, and it was too late.
On an early Wednesday morning, her story arrived in a stack of press releases left on my desk. I’d been flipping through the papers when the big, bold letters—MISSING—caught my attention, and then the text:
The Metropolitan Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance in locating a missing person identified as Evelyn Marie Carney. She was last seen at approximately 9:48 p.m., on Sunday, March 8, in the twelve hundred block of Wisconsin Avenue, NW.
The MPD lingo description—thirty-year-old white female, five four, 115 pounds—could have fit any woman. It almost fit me.
Maybe thirty seconds of airtime, no more, but then I thought: Georgetown? No one went missing from Georgetown. Not with police officers standing sentinel every couple of blocks, protecting the expensive houses and trendy restaurants and upscale shops.
Beneath the text was the missing woman’s photograph, blurred by a bad copy job. Her face was grainy and gray with two white spots for eyes—like a mask, creepy as hell—and I thought she was probably dead. It happened with sickening frequency: a woman killed by someone said to have loved her, or less often, by a stranger preying on her. Throughout the decade I’d been in the District, I’d worked different variations of this same story with sickening frequency.
There was a tap on my office door as Isaiah came in. He was the managing editor, my right-hand man, and he knew everything—changing technology in broadcasting, history of the city, local politics and crime stats, who’s who, and what’s what. Nearly forty years ago, he was one of the first black journalists to break into television. He was a great newsman.
“You’re late for your own meeting,” he said, looking at me over the top of his black horn-rims. “What happened to your Virginia Knightly early-for-everything rule?”
It was a rule he’d taught me, along with everything I knew about reporting. I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see he was right. “Let’s go,” I said.
As we cut through the newsroom, I got that rush of joy that comes at the oddest times—in the quiet moments before an editorial meeting, in the midst of my shows if there was a beautiful shot of video. Sometimes it came at the end of the day after everyone had gone home and only I was left to turn out the lights.
In the conference room, Nelson Yang, our best young photographer, stood with his shoulders pressed against the glass wall and his Dodgers cap pulled low, covering his mop of dark hair. He had a careless disposition and a penchant for gossip. Now he was telling a lewd tale of a competing news director caught with a female employee on the floor of the Graphics Department. “Talk about graphic,” he muttered.
“No news director would risk his job in such a way,” Isaiah said, taking his seat next to me.
I lifted my hand, ever the traffic cop. “True or not, it’s unprofessional to talk about our colleagues’ personal lives.”
“But, Virginia,” Nelson whined, “it’s what we do.”
Moira swept into the meeting. Swept is the only way to describe how Moira moved. She was built like a runway model, and her loose bohemian clothes trailed behind her as if she were caught in a constant headwind. She was the perfect female anchor, defying demographics of gender and age and race. She had the androgynous beauty of a Greek statue and the warm toast-colored skin of newly baked bread.
“They’re laying off people at Channel 5,” she said in her perfectly articulated voice.
“Coming soon to a theater near you,” Isaiah said.
Here we go again. Every week there was some new anecdote about the demise of broadcast television. Now it’s true that awhile back when the sponsors were losing money and pulling their ads, I panicked a little. Our fate was tied with theirs. But you didn’t cry disaster in the face of disaster. You put on your game face and dug in harder.
“They’re offering early retirement,” I said. “Not layoffs.”
“Same thing.” Moira shrugged one of her shoulders, as if she didn’t care enough to exert both. “The experienced people lose their jobs.”
“Not nearly the same,” I argued. “Early retirement comes with a big, fat paycheck that no one would take if they didn’t want to.”
“I’d love to get money for nothing,” Nelson said, and then he leaned across the table toward me. “What are you huddled over?”
“It’s called a press release. Maybe you’ve heard of them.”
“A press release of what? A Rorschach test?”
I studied the eerie eyes of Evelyn Carney again. “It’s supposed to be a picture of a woman missing from Georgetown.”
“It’s the picture that’s missing,” Nelson said with disdain. “That ink stain could be anybody. You, Moira, anybody.”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah,” I said, and then to Isaiah, “Get the police to email a color photo, will you?”
When he opened the glass door to go, I asked Isaiah to find Ben. “Ask him to call his cop buddies. See what they think of the case.”
He gestured to the digital clock above the bank of televisions, meaning Ben was late, as usual. “I’ll try to find him, but you know how it is with the beautiful people,” Isaiah said. “No offense, Moira.”
She did her one-shoulder shrug.
Later, when the evening news was under way, I left the control room and climbed the stairs to my office, where I turned off the overhead lights. The soft yellow desk lamp threw shadows over shelves holding my mother’s antique tea set and my books, waiting like old friends. There were shadows, too, on the awards hung on the walls—some from stories with Ben, some all my own—and on the framed articles I wrote during my early days at the Washington Post.
I kicked off my shoes, and lifting the remotes from my desk, turned on the monitors showing newscasts from each competing station, leaving them on mute. At the end of the hour, the color photograph of the missing woman flashed across the row of monitors simultaneously.
Evelyn Carney was young and pretty, with shoulder-length brown hair, thick and wavy, wilder than my own. Her skin was rosier, too, and her face rounder, and her green eyes tilted up in the corners like a Disney princess.
I’d seen her before, but not in person. She’d been in a video, although I couldn’t place the clip. It’d been brief, maybe two seconds long, three at most. Probably a cutaway shot, one of those quick flashes of video used to show a reaction, but I couldn’t be certain.
I went to my desk and clicked on the database for archived video on my computer and ran a search for Evelyn Carney. Her name brought up no hits. I was expanding the search when Ben knocked on my door.
He must’ve come directly from the anchor desk. His face was still covered in makeup, and his dark hair had that perfect gelatinous sheen he’d mess up as soon as he hit the street. He was giving me that look of his, his smile slow and dark eyes direct, as if I were the only woman in the world. I was pretty sure he looked at all women that way.
“I’m in the mood for some Russian lit,” he said, and I waved him in. He bent his big body to the bookshelf, pulling out the hardbound copies of Anna Karenina and War and Peace and grabbing the bottle of vodka they hid. He poured a hefty shot into the teacup from my mother’s set. His hand eclipsed the cup as he swirled it. “I always wondered what you kept behind your Ulysses.”
“Stay away from my Irish,” I said. “The alcohol isn’t a good idea anyway.”
He lifted his cup. “To all the bad ideas that make life worth living,” he said and tossed back the shot, a momentary grimace on his handsome face.
I rotated the monitor with its picture of Evelyn to face him. “Where have we seen her before?”
One eyebrow shot up. “We have?”
“On video,” I said. “Somewhere.”
He dragged a chair stuttering across the carpet, flipped it backward, and sat with his elbows on my desk. He angled the monitor for better viewing.
My nails drummed across the top of the desk.
“Shhh,” he said without looking away from the monitor, pressing the tips of his fingers against mine, stilling them. He had thick-veined, red-knuckled hands marred by a half-moon scar; strong, capable hands. When I pulled mine away, a corner of his mouth lifted. He continued to study the photo.
Finally, he said, “I’ve never seen this woman in my life.”
“And you’d remember because she’s beautiful.” I’d meant to tease him, but it came out like a complaint.
He looked up. “But you remember?”
“I’ve seen her in a short clip. I can’t place it.”
“What goes on in there?” he said, tapping his forehead. “How does that work?”
As I concentrated, my eyes grew heavy, and the memory isolated, sharpened: “It’s two seconds of video. A crowd-reaction shot to a main story that I can’t see. She’s clear, though, dead center in an audience of some sort, seated. The rest of the room, or any identifying feature, is beyond the frame.”
My forehead scrunched up. “But the woman, this Evelyn Carney—she’s got the photographer’s attention. It’s the way she leans forward, some intense emotion . . .” My voice drifted off.
“You can’t read the emotion?” he asked softly. “Or you can’t see it clearly?”
“I don’t understand it. Whatever it is, she’s alone in it. No one around her acts as she does.” I blew out a breath of frustration. “All I got.”
He eased back in the chair. “You think she’s going to be a big story?”
“Not sure. I need more information.”
“That’s why you had Isaiah hunt me down, nagging me to make calls.”
“Isaiah asked you to do your job. You used to love reporting.” I paused. “That was before the anchor desk ruined you.”
He laughed. “Poke at me all you please. I know about your soft underbelly. Besides, men like mean women. Mean or crazy, not both at the same time. Not even I could handle that.”
“You’re right. I probably could handle that.”
“About what men like, I mean.”
“Truest thing I can tell you, Virginia.”
I lifted my hands impatiently. “Did you get information on Evelyn Carney or not?” If I let him, he’d draw the whole damn thing out all night. He had to be the slowest newsman I’d ever met.
He had discovered that Evelyn was a recent law school graduate. She worked at a prestigious firm. On the night she disappeared, she had dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown. His source didn’t know the name of her dinner date, but she left alone. Police recovered her car, abandoned not fifty yards from the restaurant. I asked if we could get a shot of the car.
“It’s in the garage at Mobile Crime,” he said.
“So investigators think something bad happened. What does your guy think?”
“My guy always thinks something bad happened. He says the chief took the case out of the district today. She assigned it to detectives up at CID.”
Criminal Investigations wouldn’t normally handle a missing persons case so soon, not unless there were special circumstances. I wondered what those might be.
“How about we grab some dinner?” Ben said.
I gazed up, still lost in my what-ifs about Evelyn Carney.
“Someplace quiet,” he went on. “You could expense it, we both get a free meal, and we could talk. We need to talk.”
“About the case?”
He stretched his shoulders, pushing outward, as if fighting some terrible constriction, before he hefted himself from the chair and made his way to the door.
I waved helplessly at the spread of papers over my desk. “It’s only that, you know, there’s so much—”
“Work, yeah, I know.”
After Ben left, I searched again for that video of Evelyn. It was maddening. I began to question what I’d remembered. Maybe the video hadn’t even been on our news. Maybe it was video from a competing station. That was especially worrisome.
By the time I looked up from the computer, bleary-eyed, it was late. So I sorted my work into piles of what I’d done and what I’d yet to do and made a note about assigning someone to resume the video search tomorrow, knowing in the end, that someone would probably be me.
It was a five-minute drive to my neighborhood in Cleveland Park. I parked a half block from my house, the closest spot I could find. The night was cool and clear and the street was cast in blue. A full moon was over the National Cathedral tower.
From beneath the seat of my car, I pulled out my three-cell flashlight, heavy with a patterned grip that felt good in my hand. It was the kind beat cops carried not for illumination but as yet another weapon, the same reason I carried it up the brick walkway and onto my porch. I went inside and locked the door. The click of the security bolt echoed through my empty house.
This reading group guide for The Cutawayincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
When brilliant TV news producer Virginia Knightly receives a disturbing “MISSING” notice on her desk related to the disappearance of a beautiful young attorney, she can’t seem to shake the image from her head. Despite skepticism from her colleagues, Knightly suspects this ambitious young lawyer may be at the heart of something far more sinister, especially since she was last seen leaving an upscale restaurant after a domestic dispute. Yet, as the only woman of power at her station, Knightly quickly finds herself investigating on her own.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Neely Tucker, Washington Post national desk correspondent and author of Only the Hunted Run, said The Cutaway “rolls through the murky waters of DC media and politics that Christina Kovac knows so well.” What role, if any, do you think the city of DC played in the story? Do you think this mystery would have played out differently if it took place in your city? If so, how?
2. As we’re introduced to Virginia Knightly, she says of Evelyn Carney, “I didn’t know the woman. I’d never met her . . . somehow I got hooked at that first glimpse of her.” Why do you think Virginia fixated on Evelyn Carney’s case in particular? What does Virginia have in common with Evelyn Carney? How do they differ?
3. In Chapter 14, we see a glimpse into the tumultuous relationship between Virginia and her father. How do you think the events of her childhood have contributed to her current life? How, if at all, do you think it has impacted her approach to the Evelyn Carney case?
4. On page 155, Virginia wakes up from a nightmare:
Last night I dreamed I was swimming in the river. In the distance, a woman was drifting facedown. I wanted to help her, but the tide was working against me, and with each stroke, she seemed farther away from my reach. It was hopeless, there wasn’t enough time, and suddenly I was there, as happens only in dreams. My hands were on her shoulders, turning her, the long and tangled hair covering her face. I brushed her hair away to find her eyes were alive and open, a summer-sky blue, and she gasped a deep gulp of air.
It was my mother.
How would you interpret this dream? Why do you think her mother comes to life? How does this relate to Virginia’s circumstances in that moment?
5. Would you consider Virginia Knightly is better equipped for a fight or for love? Why?
6. Virginia and Ben have very different approaches to their jobs and even their relationships. How would you characterize both of them as individuals? How do their differences positively and negatively affect their partnership? Which personality, if any, do you believe is more fitting to the role of a journalist? In which character do you see more of yourself?
7. On page 65, Virginia says to their intern, “You’re a female journalist. Under no circumstances can you show emotion. Do you understand?” How does this speak to the challenges of being a professional woman? What are some of the biggest obstacles female journalists face? How does this impact Virginia’s career? How does it impact Moira’s? Heather’s?
8. Throughout the novel, we see many different purveyors of justice, including the police (Michael), journalists (Virginia), and law firms (Paige). How do you believe each character would define “justice”? How does their definition of justice impact their actions? How would you define justice?
9. The Cutaway gives readers a look at the inner workings of a TV newsroom. On page 10, when describing her job, Virginia says, “For me, it has always been about telling stories, no matter where you do it—in front of the camera or behind it—and it’s the best gig going. You hold on to it for as long as you can, knowing that one morning you can wake up at the pinnacle, and by nightfall, you’re clinging to your career by your fingertips. In a snap, just like that.” What surprised you most about the world of television journalism? In your opinion, what is the most important role of the journalist? How did this change your view of journalists, if at all?
10. At the end of the novel, Virginia is faced with a difficult decision between romance and her career. Do you think Virginia made the right choice? Why or why not? What would you have done if placed in the same position?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. The Cutaway has been optioned for a television series. Who would you cast in the lead roles? Why? Which scenes in The Cutaway did you find particularly cinematic? Discuss them with your book club.
2. Christina Kovac began her career as a television journalist with Fox 5’s Ten O’Clock News, then an ABC affiliate in Washington DC, and the last nine years working at NBC News providing coverage for Meet the Press, the Today show, Nightly News, and others. In her time as a desk editor and news producer for the Washington Bureau of NBC Network News, she worked on such stories as that of missing DC intern, Chandra Levy. Take a moment to watch clips from these networks. How do you think Christina’s career influenced her writing? How does The Cutaway impact the way you watch the news, if at all?
3. To learn more about Christina Kovac, read reviews of her work, and find her on tour, visit her official site at ChristinaKovac.com.
Christina Kovac worked for seventeen years managing Washington, DC newsrooms and producing crime and political stories in the District. Her career as television journalist began with Fox Five’s Ten O’Clock News, and after that, the ABC affiliate in Washington. For the last nine years, she worked at NBC News, where she worked for Tim Russert and provided news coverage for Meet the Press, the Today show, Nightly News, and others. Christina Kovac lives with her family outside of Washington, DC. The Cutaway is her first novel.
"An insider's look at TV news and the real workings of Washington DC, The Cutaway combines relentless pace, a compelling story, and a truly memorable protagonist. Terrific."
– Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Suspicion and The Switch
"Readers will want to see more of this tenacious, lovable heroine."
– Publishers Weekly STARRED Review
"A smart, highly satisfying story of crime, politics, the media, and ruthless ambition. With an insider’s knowledge of how to do everything from produce a live TV shoot, trade tips with cops during an investigation, or navigate the complex dynamics of gender in the modern workplace, Kovac brings intelligence and breathless plotting to The Cutaway. The result is sensational, in the best sense of the word."
– Thomas Mullen, author of DARKTOWN
"THE CUTAWAY" is as clever as its title, a smart, fast-paced thriller that rolls through the murky waters of D.C. media and politics that Christina Kovac knows so well. Virginia Knightly, the television news producer at the heart of this story, makes her debut with all the panache and style you wish the evening news still had."
– Neely Tucker, author of Only The Hunted Run and Washington Post national desk correspondent
“Former D.C. newsroom manager Kovac knows her milieu and portrays it vividly in this smart, absorbing mix of media, politics, and mystery, with twists and turns to the end.”
"A fast-paced and exciting story set in the glitz, glamour, and danger of DC.”
– E.P. Clarke
“A great story that has romance, intrigue, and great dialogue. It is also a walking tour of the nation’s capital and a peek behind the scenes of politics, justice, and the news business.”
“...a fast-paced, engrossing adult mystery whose biggest strengths are its top-notch writing, a noble protagonist, and the many fascinating insights Kovac shares about the world of television journalism.”
– Eve Messenger’s OtherWORDly Endeavors
“...this will appeal to readers who enjoy (Paula) Hawkins and (Gillian) Flynn, though Kovac has her own voice.”
– Mirkat Always Reading
"Fast-paced and captivating,”
– RT Book Reviews
“This book tics a lot of items on my list: DC based-check, murder mystery-check, bulldog investigative journalist-check, legal thriller-check. Lot to like about this. Sure do hope Kovac isn’t a one & done."
– Men Reading Books
“Cosmopolitan called it ‘The Newsroom’ meets ‘Gone Girl.’ They are wrong. It is better."
– Andrew Boylan
"I would be hard-pressed to find a book more timely than The Cutaway."
– BOLO Books
“Smart, strong, well drawn women characters add an extra dimension to this page-turning thriller, looking at the greed and power of the politically connected through a feminist lens.” “Smart, strong, well drawn women characters add an extra dimension to this page-turning thriller, looking at the greed and power of the politically connected through a feminist lens.”