RAGE AGAINST THE DYING, by Becky Masterman. Minotaur Books, 307 pp., $24.99
There's a lot to admire in Becky Masterman's terrific first novel, starting with her heroine: petite, white-haired, 59-year-old FBI agent Brigid Quinn. Although retired, Brigid uses her friendships with local law enforcement officers to elbow her way into investigations.
Brigid is newly married to Carlo, an ex-priest and intellectual. As the story unfolds, she struggles to balance her obsessive pursuit of a serial killer with her love for Carlo, who she fears will never understand the side of her that can hate and even kill.
In an isolated area near her Tucson home, Brigid is attacked by a man who intends to murder her. Brigid, well versed in martial arts, tries to disable the man but accidentally kills him. Because she fears her husband's reaction to her violence, she alters the crime scene to make the death look accidental. This, of course, comes back to haunt her.
Shortly afterward, a truck driver is arrested and confesses to the brutal murders of eight women hitchhiking on Route 66. The Tucson FBI office is eager to close a famous case, but Brigid and Laura Coleman, a special agent in the office, fear the truck driver isn't the killer. When the two women pursue the case, despite official objections, someone -- possibly the real Route 66 killer -- comes after them.
Along the way, we're treated to colorful commentary. She comments, with regard to her energetic sex life, "There's something about criminal cases that makes me frisky." In a darker moment, she declares, "We all embrace our inner serial killer at some point."
Masterman had me suspecting just about everyone. Yet much of the appeal of "Rage Against the Dying" lies in its love story. One of the questions we urgently want answered is whether Brigid's obsession with the serial killer will destroy her marriage to Carlo. "Some people's lives aren't meant to include relationships," she says in a moment of despair.
When Masterman sent a query about her novel to one agent, he responded, "Nobody is interested in a woman older than 30." But anyone who appreciates thoughtful, suspenseful writing will be glad to meet tough, conflicted and compassionate Brigid Quinn. When the nominations are made for the best crime-novel debut of the year, we should be hearing her name again.