Brigid Quinn has all the qualities I find compelling in a character: She's quirky, headstrong, socially awkward, intelligent, and brave. She also has a dark past she keeps hidden from her new husband, a warped sense of humor, and years of experience hunting down and exposing the most depraved killers. She is under-appreciated, of course.
Becky Masterman's debut novel is noteworthy. She gives us great character development, strong storytelling, and clever twists.
Brigid is 59 years old and retired from the FBI. Actually, because of an incident involving the death of an unarmed suspect, she was exiled and effectively forced into retirement. Her exile sent her to Tucson, Arizona, and despite being a fish out of water there and figuratively flopping in the desert, she stayed and now calls the area her home.
After she retired, she tried many activities that she had never had time for before, but, in her own words, "[I]t felt like I was still undercover, temporarily posing as a Southwestern Woman of a Certain Age." Besides, "No one likes a woman who knows how to kill with her bare hands." Nothing suited her until she took a class in Buddhism at the local university. She and the "Perfesser," as she refers to Carlo DiForenza, hit it off and were soon married.
Married life agreed with her and Carlo, an ex-priest, widower, and retired teacher. Brigid was even learning to cook. Sort of. At least no one died eating her food. The same can't be said of people she met while she was with the FBI. Although she had thought those days were uneasily in her past, she is unexpectedly drawn back into a game of find-the-perp.
The biggest case of Brigid's career involved tracking down, unsuccessfully, the "Route 66 Killer." Young women died. So presumably did an undercover FBI agent, Jessica Robertson, Brigid's protégé. Set up as a decoy to catch the killer, Jessica disappeared during Brigid's operation to catch the killer and several years later still has not been found.
One day during Brigid's new life, an old friend, Deputy Sheriff Max Coyote, shows up with an invitation to observe a joint investigation into the confession of Floyd Lynch, a trucker who was found with a mummified body in his cab. He claims to be the "Route 66 Killer." Heading the FBI task force is Laura Coleman. She seems favorably disposed towards Brigid and knows how important it would be to the former agent to know that the killer had been caught.
After several interviews of Lynch, discovery of substantiating evidence, and the uncovering of more bodies, it appears the case is open-and-shut, with a lifetime reservation in the Big Cage awaiting Lynch. But hold on. Coleman, after all, is not satisfied. There's something wonky. She wants Brigid and Brigid's old profiler partner, David "Sig" Weiss, to back her up that maybe the killer is still out there.
Brigid has no credibility with the current FBI staff, and that's crucial to why Brigid is forced to go off on her own when her instincts tell her Coleman is right. Without the resources available to law enforcement, Brigid has to find corroborating evidence herself.
The book begins with the story of an unknown woman -- whom we find out is Brigid within a few more pages (so this isn't a complete spoiler comment) -- caught by a serial killer who likes older women. He obviously hasn't factored in Brigid's 40 years of FBI training or her walking stick festooned with a razor blade. This was a most entertaining start.
Masterman piles on the intriguing elements. Why hasn't Brigid told Carlo about her prior life? For goodness sakes, he thinks she did "copyright infringement" investigations for the FBI. What is Laura Coleman's interest in keeping Brigid, a discredited agent, on tap? Why hasn't Brigid gotten rid of Carlo's deceased wife's things? Why weren't there more victims of the Route 66 Killer after Jessica was taken? All answers come to those who wait.
Here are a couple of examples of Masterman's writing. Most of the book is from Brigid's point of view.
Max is in Brigid's home and is telling her about Lynch's arrest:
"You couldn't tell much from the victim. The body was mummified."
"Curiouser and curiouser. Smell much?"
I nodded, making a mental note to get more celery before I closed the refrigerator door.
Here is Brigid describing Lynch:
There was the dark curly hair I remembered, the ski nose, and the wire-rimmed glasses. Now I noticed other details, how his upper lip was more prominent than his jaw. How his fingers showed he was a fine-boned man. I noticed again that scabby patch on one cheek that looked like it got picked at when he was bored with biting his wart. How his ears stuck out from his head.
It's easy to read a book when the author has such a strong sense of character, when the plot is entertaining and clever, and when the final product delivers the goods.