Becky Masterman has really brought something different to the thriller market with her impressive debut novel ‘Rage Against The Dying’. With a strapline from Linwood Barclay saying, ‘Masterman writes like an angel that has seen too many ungodly things’, I can only agree, with such a visceral plot and with a band of damaged and affecting characters. I think it is demeaning to the strength of Masterman’s writing, to simply label this as a serial killer thriller in the conventional sense. Yes, the essential ingredients of this genre are in evidence with the plot focusing on the actions of the Route 66 killer and the violent details of his, as yet, unpunished killing spree, but it quickly becomes clear that this book carries a weight and emotional depth largely untapped in this kind of writing. As our erstwhile heroine ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn, who has her own personal history with the case, insinuates herself back into the investigation after a violent event, what Masterman constructs is an examination of not only a race to catch a killer, but how those left in the wake of violence try to come to terms with their lives and deal with the need for retribution. Masterman truly captures not only the the motivation of those who endeavour to administer justice, but equally makes the reader take a trip into the darkest recesses of a killer’s mind.
The stand out feature of this book for me is the character of Brigid Quinn herself, who is a complete breath of fresh air in the normal cardboard cutout creations of many contemporary female American crime fiction authors. Probably due to the fact that Quinn is more advanced in years than most female protagonists, her character was infinitely more rounded and believable from the outset. This is a woman living in the shadow of her former career, tormented by the aftermath of leaving a major serial killer case unsolved, and feeling personally responsible for the death of a young agent on her watch. Following a violent confrontation close to her home, Quinn is inextricably lured back to the Route 66 killer case, and is drawn into a dangerous chain of events in her search for justice, her own redemption for her former mistakes and her determination to protect another young female agent involved with case. What I liked most is the grasp of reality that Masterman keeps in her depiction of Quinn’s involvement in terms of her mental strength, but also an authentic depiction of her physical aptitude, obviously affected by her age. This air of authenticity draws the reader to Quinn, and arouses our trust and empathy with her as a character which Masterman skilfully handles throughout the course of the book. Her emotional intelligence shines through in her professional relationships, be it acting as counsellor to a bereaved father, or imparting her wisdom to a young impetuous agent on a destructive path of action. In terms of her personal relationships. Quinn has come to married life late, having being so focused on her career, and this makes for an interesting strand in the plot, examining how difficult it is for her to balance her personal life, and the pull of the chase to catch a killer. Her relationship with her husband Carlo, comes under the most severe strain, but in every interaction between these two characters, there is a complete feel of authenticity about their relationship and a sense of them adjusting and readjusting to the commitment and honesty that should define their marriage. What Masterman so neatly captures in the character of the Quinn is the day to day tussle between these two disparate parts of her life, and her sometimes misguided need to shield one from the other, but also maintaining her personal survival as violent events threaten her freedom, not to say her life.
I’m usually loathe to draw comparisons with other authors but in the interests of getting as many people as possible to discover this book I would certainly mention Masterman in the same breath as established crime author, Karin Slaughter. Masterman certainly combines the visceral nature so prevalent in Slaughter’s books, but adds a new and authentic depth to her own characterisation with her outstanding portrayal of Brigid Quinn. An extremely satisfying thriller that can only auger well for Masterman’s success in the world of crime fiction.