Reviews

Becky Masterman's Thrilling Debut Mystery, 'Rage Against the Dying', Is a Keeper

It’s been said that the source of good fiction is decent people behaving badly. Indeed, the emphasis on espionage and false identities here may make you think of Shakespeare.


Rage Against the Dying

Publisher: Minotaur
Length: 320 pages
Author: Becky Masterman
Price: $24.99
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2013-03
Amazon

Meet Brigid Quinn, the aging, tough, Arizonian protagonist of Becky Masterman’s soulful debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying. Brigid is an FBI investigator who is retired. She is in her late 50s.

An old, unsolved case has reared its head. Years ago, Brigid tried to find “the Route 66 killer”—a guy who was picking up and murdering women along the famous road that connects Chicago to Los Angeles.

Brigid and her colleagues think they have found the killer—a man named Floyd Lynch. He knows things that only the killer (presumably) would know. For example, he is aware that the killer sliced off the ears of his victims as souvenirs. This info was never released to the public.

An ambitious, young, slightly untrustworthy upstart, Laura Coleman, is working with Brigid on the case. Brigid’s former mentor, Sigmund, is also involved. He is nicknamed Sigmund because of his Freudian analytical skills. (One of many good things Masterman does is: make judicious use of nicknames.) Additionally, a shrewd local policeman, Max Coyote, is breathing down Brigid's back.

Will Brigid be able to assist without sacrificing her marriage to a hot former priest named Carlo? …Brigid once lost a romantic partner because he was appalled by her line of work… Thus, understandably, Brigid is reluctant to share any reports on her sleuthing with Carlo.

As if investigating weren’t enough, Brigid has another grave task: desperately trying to keep alive a man named Zach, the father of Jessica, one of the Route 66 killer's victims. Zach makes alarming jokes about suicide.

Throughout, Masterman is skilled at forcing her protagonist into situations that require lying. You rarely know what Brigid's opponents are thinking, and there is often a life at stake.

For example, a scene I especially love in this novel involves a recent accidental killing. Brigid must lie about the killing. She is not sure she is persuading her interlocutor, Max Coyote. It's also unclear to what extent Max is aware of the horseplay Brigid was involved in. Two people are being dishonest with each other, and the reader is left guessing. It’s been said that the source of good fiction is decent people behaving badly. That's on display often in Masterman’s debut. The emphasis on espionage and false identities may make you think of Shakespeare.

Another strength: no scene seems to go on too long. The pacing is so masterful, you don’t even notice it.

And it’s fun to spend so much time in the head of a savvy, imperiled character. Brigid makes mistakes, and you understand why she makes them. You sympathize. The real plot is the evolution of Carlo’s relationship with Brigid—something that is keeping Brigid hopeful and alive. This is present toward the start of the novel, and it returns in a surprising way at the end.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that Masterman starts her story in a memorable way. The book begins in the third person. You see Brigid through someone else’s eyes. You “become” a serial killer—getting to know Brigid, feeling confused and surprised by her behavior. And then the focus shifts; you are suddenly inside Brigid’s consciousness, where you will remain for the rest of the novel.

This reminds me of something Adam Gopnik once wrote about classic American characters (in The New Yorker, “The Corrections”, 22 October 2007). You tend to hear a good deal of breathless murmuring about them before they walk onstage. This commentary adds to the character’s mythic stature. Think of the whispering about Captain Ahab toward the start of Moby Dick. Think of the gossip about Gatsby at the start of The Great Gatsby.

Masterman pulls off something like this in Rage Against the Dying.

Brigid won’t easily exit your thoughts, and Masterman will leave you hoping for a follow-up novel in the near future.

This is an auspicious debut.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.