Book: Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman
Becky Masterman, a Tucson resident, created a female character who stands out in the crowd of female detectives. Fans who read her first novel,Rage Against the Dying, have been eagerly waiting for the second in what they hope will be a lengthy series featuring Brigid Quinn. A retired FBI agent, married to a retired Episcopal priest, she has recently settled (not that Brigid actually settles) in Tucson.
You might guess by the “retired” that comes before FBI agent, Brigid Quinn is somewhere north of 55, but age is just a number, and she’s not counting. She is insatiably drawn to mysterious situations with a dangerous edge, to the despair of her peace-loving husband. Brigid still knows how to handle bad guys–and gals–both physically and through meticulous analysis of evidence and application of street smarts.
The new book, Fear the Darkness, shows Brigid trying to fit in to a ‘normal’ life. She has followed through on a promise to her brother’s dying wife and brought the couples college-age daughter to Tucson to live so that the girl can establish residency for college. As we learn more about Brigid’s former job as an undercover agent–adapting to roles of prostitute, drug runner, or other lowdown vermin– it is easy to see how she can have doubts about this normal-family-surrogate-mother thing.
I could do this. I was tough. I may be small and have prematurely white hair, but I’m as psychologically and physically fit as you can be at my age. And as I’ve explained, I can disarm a grown man before he could say..anything….Next to somebody like me, Chuck Norris is just a wuss. How hard could it be to be a good aunt.
To add to her angst, Gemma Kate, the neice, shows some odd quirks of her own. In fact her behavior is so odd that Brigid begins to wonder if the clever girl is a psychopath. Bad things start happening all around, and Brigid herself becomes a target of some sort of evil that she can’t quite identify.
The plot is complex–peopled with the sort of friends and neighbors you can recognize without thinking “stock characters.” This complexity takes a lot of time to set up–the mysterious teenage suicide; the devotion of a friend (the only one Brigid has ever had) to her paralyzed husband; the appearance of an appealing man at church one day; even the rather unenthusiastic minister. Then there’s an arrogant doctor with a wife who seems unhinged; a cop who may be hiding family secrets. Readers who want their thrillers to leap right in to the action are going to have to cool their heels while they meet these characters and experience how “normal” can slide into a horror show so gradually that you hardly notice.
The climax is frightening not just because of the violent action, presented in proper thriller fashion in a breath-taking sequence, but also because the “I never saw that coming” ending has you wondering about the assumptions you make in your own life. It’s not as though the author didn’t try to warn you.
I admit from the start it’s at least embarrassing to not recognize the devil, but I can understand because I’ve been there…During my time with the Bureau, I lived among killers who cheerfully attended their daughters’ ballet recitals, and men who trafficked in human flesh whole baby-talking their parakeets.
Although I was impatient with the slow setup of this book, I still am a big fan of Brigid Quinn and her smart-ass wisecracks and derring-do. The first book was a nominee for best first novel in the Edgars (mystery writing) and no doubt this one will garner some of the same recognition. Brigid’s dialogue is not the only smart thing about the writing.
If you’re wondering what Tucson is like–not just the mountain paths and the wildlife, but also the culture–Masterman weaves that kind of information into the story. Just one thing threw me, and I’m probably petty for mentioning it, but I can’t resist.
Gemma Kate and her boy friend take off for Sabino Canyon and tell Brigid that they are going to look at the “night-blooming cactus and the wildlife”. Sabino Canyon does have moonlight walks. Except this scene takes place in March. The night-blooming cereus–the night-bloomer that makes the best show doesn’t bloom until late June or early July. Until then, all there is to see is a pathetic plant lying on the ground imitating a dead stick. I know–picky, picky, picky.
Where you can absolutely depend on Masterman’s research, of course, is in forensic details. She has worked for years as an editor of forensic medicine books or law enforcement officials, and has a wide array of experts to call on. These nitty gritty details make the novel come to life. And nothing is livelier than the terrific creation, Brigid Quinn.
The publisher sent me the book for review. I have met Masterman personally, and interviewed her after her first book was published (you can read that interview here.) Neither of these things affects my giving you my honest appraisal of the book.
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