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by Becky Masterman
Penguin Canada, March 2013
320 pages
$22.00 CAD
ISBN: 0143182668

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Brigid Quinn would probably be the first to admit that she's a piece of work. She tells us going away that "I've sometimes regretted the woman I've been." She then goes on to provide a lengthy list of roles she's played ranging from whore to ideal wife, from heroine to killer. Specifically, she's a retired FBI agent aged fifty-nine whose blonde hair has turned to white, who has through sheer willpower converted herself into a happily married wife living on the outskirts of Tucson in a house she shares with her new husband, a recently widowed ex-Catholic priest turned academic, and two Pug dogs. As an FBI agent, she worked undercover on sex crime cases, aided by a marked talent for appearing utterly unnoticeable. Whether she can similarly succeed playing the role of contented housewife still remains an open question.

Brigid did not retire willingly, but she is determined to keep the circumstances along with much of her life experience from her husband Carlo, as she fears he will be appalled by what she knows and what she's done. But her current persona develops large cracks very quickly when she is confronted first by a serial rapist who specializes in older women and who comes close to making her his next victim and then by the confession of one Floyd Lynch. He confesses to being the Route 66 serial killer, responsible for the deaths of a number of woman, but particularly that of Jessica Robertson, a young FBI agent who was working the case under Brigid's tutelage and who disappeared. Her body has never been found, nor has her killer. Brigid has ever since bourne a heavy burden of guilt for failing her protégée. But Floyd does not altogether convince her that his confession is the truth, and when Laura Coleman, another young FBI agent, likewise shares her doubts and enlists Brigid's aid in an off-the-books investigation, Brigid has no alternative but to revert to her old life and training, complicated because she is working freelance and worse, because she has a lot to conceal from the forces of law and order herself.

What ensues is a gripping and involving story, brutal largely because of its innate violence but not one that lingers lovingly over the details of the various sex crimes or pokes too frequently into the murky depths of the perpetrator's mind. When Laura Coleman disappears, Brigid's worst nightmare, that what happened to Jessica was repeating itself, causes her to devote every ounce of her energy to finding Laura before it's too late.

RAGE AGAINST THE DYING is a debut novel and it does have certain weaknesses. It begins with what seems to have become an obligatory feature in contemporary crime fiction - the prologue. This one is especially irritating in that it resembles a movie trailer - a piece designed to hook the reader browsing bookstore shelves - rather than being anything necessary to the actual book it introduces. And then there is the question of Brigid's marriage and her crippling protectiveness toward her improbable spouse. It all seems theoretical rather than grounded in emotion and works rather poorly as motive for Brigid's behaviour.

But in the end, how often do we get to read about a tough female protagonist who is pushing sixty and who has seen it all? I don't have to tell you the answer to that one. Masterman recalls a literary agent's response to a query regarding the prospects for Brigid, "Nobody is interested in a woman older than thirty."

Oh yeah?

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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