Book: Rage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman (NEW March 2013)
This exciting new mystery book features a hard-boiled detective. Typical of the breed. Slightly older than the bad guys, but still a fighter. Disrespectful of authority. Drinks too much. Appreciates the opposite sex. Harbors some inner secrets that make for an interestingly flawed character.
But there the typicality stops. This hard-boiled detective is a woman.
She’s not a P.I.–instead she’s “retired” from the F.B.I. for having (perhaps) killed a guy unnecessarily.
She doesn’t live in the big city–she lives in Tucson, Arizona.
She’s not chasing after the opposite sex in this mystery book, although she’s struggling with the concept of a normal relationship with her ex-priest husband who doesn’t know about her background.
I love hard boiled detective novels, and first-time novelist Becky Masterman has nailed the genre inRage Against the Dying. But the twists she has given the tried and true formula make it fresh, unpredictable and fun. And isn’t it delightful to discover a brand new author and begin panting for the next book? Please tell me there is going to be a next book soon.
Since there’s no way to delve into the plot without spoiling your fun, and since the characters are so firmly entrenched in the plot development, I’m going to skip all that and share with you some bits of conversation I had with Masterman by e-mail. I first met her at the Tucson Festivalof Books, where I met four other women writers I want to share with you soon.
A Traveler’s Library: You talked at TFOB about having a “kick-ass” heroine of 59 years old–not far from your own age. Some might wonder why it took you so long to get this first mystery book out. Are you like so many overnight successes, with a ton of unsold manuscripts in the bottom drawer or did you actually wait to start writing until you had some life experiences under your belt?
Becky Masterman: I’m the one with the ton of unsold manuscript who didn’t have anything to say until I was forty. I’ve written as many as six novels before Rage Against the Dying over the past twenty years, ranging from metaphysical comedy to historical fiction to children’s chapter books. Pieces of advice I heard along the way: “What about a self-help book? Those are popular.” And, “Why don’t you write something that people want to read?” That last piece of advice I finally took.
ATL: Please tell me why Tucson is the setting for your book, whether it could take place anywhere else, and how that affects the story.
BM: I started the book in competition with my husband during Novel Writing Month the first year after we moved here from Florida. I decided to make mine a mystery and have an older woman who was trying to adapt to life out of law enforcement, in a first marriage, and in a vastly different climate. And not just a different climate but also a slower pace from what she was accustomed to in an east coast urban environment. She notes that strangers wave, and she finds that a little creepy. Plus there’s the mummies. Bodies tend to dry out in the desert if they’re not scavenged. You wouldn’t have that in Florida.
ATL: Could a traveler use your book as a guide to Southern Arizona?
BM: No. For one thing, while my protagonist loves the beauty of the mountains, she makes fun of Tucson. She doesn’t appreciate it yet in the first book. So I don’t know that a traveler would want to come here after reading it. For another, I play fast and loose with the geography of the place for the sake of the story, moving and renaming places. The fictional Emery’s Cantina down in the city is modeled after Player’s Pub up in Catalina. My husband wouldn’t go there with me because he was afraid we’d be raped by bikers, but my book club was game. You should have seen us in there, like a bunch of church ladies whooping it up. They were very nice to us.
ATL: Have you ever been influenced to travel by a book?
BM: Influenced to travel by a genre, perhaps, and a whole history of literature. Having devoured English Gothic novels in high school (remember Victoria Holt?), which led me to an English Literature BA in college, you could say that books led me to England. After spending years with Chaucer, Dickens, Austen, to stand before Canterbury Cathedral reciting Chaucer’s prologue, or seeing the sign for Baker Street, or lying on the grass at Tinturn Abbey listening to a friend read the poem, well all that was like coming home.
I am relieved to note that in answer to the third question above, Masterman says, “in the first book.” So there will be more. Hurrah.
Do you like your mystery books hard-boiled? Looking forward to a woman of a certain age as the hero?
Note: The publisher provided a review copy of the book, which does not influence my straight-shooting opinions. Links to Amazon are affiliate links, which means I have a financial arrangement and appreciate your using my links when you show there.