Mar 25, 2024 - News

Veteran Valley reporter releases debut mystery novel set in Phoenix

A stack of "Off the Air" books.

Photo: Courtesy of Christina Estes

Longtime Phoenix broadcast reporter Christina Estes' debut mystery novel follows a local journalist's journey through the Valley to solve the murder of a controversial talk show host.

The big picture: "Off the Air" is a love letter to Phoenix disguised as an entertaining whodunnit, and it drops Tuesday.

  • Readers will explore the Maryvale and Melrose neighborhoods, visit Rito's and Welcome Diner and learn just how cutthroat local news can get in our city.

Between the pages: Fictional protagonist Jolene Garcia, a TV reporter with a chip on her shoulder after losing a regional Emmy award, is hell-bent on getting the scoop on who killed radio personality Larry Lemon.

  • She refuses to back down from the story, even when it leads her into extreme danger.

What they're saying: "There's a saying you hear over and over again in publishing: Write what you know or write what you love. I know reporting, and I love Phoenix," Estes said.

  • The businesses featured in "Off the Air" have special meaning in Estes' real life, she tells us. For example, Jolene inherited Estes' love of Food City chips and salsa.
  • Estes profiled Chicago Hamburger Company owner Bob Pappanduros during the early days of the pandemic. His openness and honesty won him a spot in the book too, she told us.
Two people standing next to a sign.
Author Christina Estes and Chicago Hamburger Company owner Bob Pappanduros. Photo: Courtesy of Christina Estes

Zoom in: Estes decided to write "Off the Air" 15 years ago. She said she learned the hard way that news writing does not translate easily to book publishing.

  • In 2021, the manuscript won the Tony Hillerman Prize for Best First Mystery set in the Southwest.
  • The following year she signed a contract with Minotaur Books.

Jessica here: Estes and I were competitors turned friends as Phoenix City Hall reporters from 2017 to 2020. I even got to read her early pitch for this book during one particularly dry council meeting.

  • One of the antagonists in "Off the Air" is an annoying competitor named Jessica — but Estes assures me the name was selected long before we met.

Estes is hosting a series of events to celebrate the book's release this week at bookstores across the Valley.

What's next: Estes is working on a sequel she hopes to publish next year.

  • It will begin with Jolene headed to City Hall, where the mayor is stuck in an elevator — which may sound familiar to longtime Phoenix politicos.

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