A Bad Day’s Work, the debut novel of former CNN staffer Nora McFarland, is more than a compelling mystery—it’s a unique glimpse into the life of a small-town television news photographer. The story of Lilly Hawkins of Bakersfield, California, may be fiction, but the author’s fresh voice and careful attention to detail make the intrigue real—and will have readers rooting for the photographer, called the “shooter” in newsroom lingo.

Lilly can use all the fans she can get. Backstabbing takes center stage, since her co-workers want recognition at any cost—the end goal being a better job in a bigger city.

The action starts on page one with a middle-of-the-night call to go out and videotape a crime scene. But the station’s news director hesitates to send Lilly because she has made several serious blunders recently. She convinces him she can handle the assignment, but faces unusually strong resistance at the scene as she tries to get the important footage. Things deteriorate further when she gets to the office and finds she has made yet another mistake. And somehow she gets caught up in the ever-unfolding crime, leading to even greater traumas.

Some of Lilly’s problems arise because she’s a terrible judge of character, trusting people she shouldn’t and suspecting those who are on her side. For example, there’s her uncle, who is Lilly’s main champion in solving the case, but can barely stay on the right side of the law. Andunfortunately, she’s also falling for her least favorite slick reporter.

This cozy mystery-with-an-edge is especially appealing because the characters are not typecast. Far from bland, their zaniness is reminiscent of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. Plus, the reading group guide includes a terrific interview with the author. The next installment of this excellent new series can’t come soon enough. 

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