Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman is a debut thriller featuring a former FBI agent who has retired to Arizona, but hasn’t been able to leave her job behind (available March 12, 2013).
Brigid Quinn is a tough-talking former FBI agent, forced into retirement after fatally shooting an unarmed perp. She’s haunted still by the greatest unsolved case of her career: that of the Route 66 serial killer whose last known victim was Quinn’s protegee, a promising young agent named Jessica Robertson. No longer a fed, Quinn keeps busy by geode-hunting in the Arizona desert and compulsively hiding any trace of her former professional pursuits from her beloved new husband, Carlo. Burned by disastrous past relationships with civilians, she is paranoid that finding out about her close involvement with death will push Carlo away from her.
The sight of [Carlo] fixing the feeder for my pleasure made my heart… swell to overflowing is supposed to be a worn-out phrase, but for me it’s a brand-new feeling.
This may seem an unusually strong reaction to a man filling a bird feeder. If you have led a relatively peaceful life you will not appreciate its value and treasure it the way I do, not understand what it feels like to go day after day with that vibration in your chest, as if you carried inside of you a violin string that has just been plucked but now the string is silent and still because the threat of violence is long past.
Now I was living in peace with a man so gentle and sensitive he gave sup to hummingbirds. Does this seem precious? I don’t give a rat’s ass.
Quinn’s tenuous peace is shattered when a trucker named Floyd Lynch confesses to the Route 66 murders, offering to lead the FBI to Jessica’s body. Quinn is called back into the field due to her previous involvement with the case, and meets Laura Coleman, the special agent assigned to Lynch. Together with several other FBI and state personnel, they find and positively identify the body. Case closed… only Coleman has her suspicions about Lynch’s detailed confession. She confides in Quinn before abruptly disappearing—to the relief of her bosses who think Coleman’s gone rogue—just as Jessica’s still-grieving father flies into town for closure. As Quinn is trying to handle these separate delicate situations, she finds herself the target of someone willing to do anything to stop her from looking any further into the Route 66 murders.
Rage Against The Dying is a fast-paced mystery with inventive twists, featuring one of the gutsiest heroines I’ve come across in years. Brigid Quinn is a complex invention, an intelligent detective and trained killer with the self-damaging inability to trust the ones she loves with the truth about herself. It occasionally grates that she’s so willfully blind as to what constitutes a healthy adult relationship, but that’s easily forgiven in light of what an original, bluntly honest voice she is in crime fiction, as in this declaration that comes early in the book:
I’ve sometimes regretted the women I’ve been.
There’ve been so many: daughter, sister, cop, tough broad, several kinds of whore, jilted lover, ideal wife, heroine, killer. I’ll provide the truth of them all, inasmuch as I’m capable of telling the truth. Keeping secrets, telling lies, they require the same skill. Both become a habit, almost an addiction, that’s hard to break even with the people closest to you, out of the business. For example, they say never trust a woman who tells you her age; if she can’t keep that secret, she can’t keep yours.
Becky Masterman has written an outstanding debut thriller with a unique heroine who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in the pursuit of justice. Her writing is muscular but lyrical, adeptly alternating between scenes of carnage and moments of emotional reflection, but leavening it all with Quinn’s usually wry demeanor, as illustrated in the passages selected here. An immensely satisfying page-turner.
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Doreen Sheridan is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. She microblogs on Twitter @dvaleris.
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