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by Becky Masterman
Penguin Canada, March 2017
320 pages
$25.00 CAD
ISBN: 0143196537

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This third installment in the Brigid Quinn series begins with a prologue which, for once, is not merely a trailer to hook the bookstore browser, but a genuine prologue. It takes us back to when Brigid was still in training as an FBI agent. As part of that process, she is sent to witness an execution. The event is almost clinically described, with all Brigid's emotional response purged. At the end, she lets us know how she felt then and feels today:

I didn't want to know that man's complete story. I wasn't even sure he was competent. Having known some creatures that simply need to be put down, I'm not against the death penalty by any means. But anyone out there who ever suggests I get a morbid thrill from it, fuck you.

Shift thirty-five years forward and Brigid finds herself somewhat reluctantly enlisted in an attempt to save another convicted murderer from execution. She is in Florida, called there by her father's serious illness. Coincidentally, he is in the same area to which Laura Coleman, whom readers will remember from RAGE AGAINST THE DYING, now invalided out of the FBI, has relocated and joined an Innocence Project branch. Laura is intensely involved in the attempt to save a man who was convicted of murdering his wife and his three children. It may not be simply a passion for justice that motivates Laura, however. She appears to have fallen in love with the condemned man. Brigid is initially unconvinced of his innocence, but feels she owes Laura a debt and undertakes the investigation, if only to prove to Laura that she is mistaken.

But Brigid is primarily in Florida because her father may be about to die in hospital and duty rather than love has called her to her parents' side. Brigid is not the product of a happy home - her father a bully, her mother incapable of defending herself or her children against him. Brigid still cannot forgive her mother, whom she compared to a sea turtle who lays her eggs in a hole in the sand and heads off to sea "without so much as a Good luck, kids." As for her father, she spends as much time as possible far from his hospital bedside.

The difficulty with all this is that the book appears equally divided between the larger social issue of capital punishment and the more individual problems of a dysfunctional family. Each receives equal weight and attention (though I felt that the most effective writing was devoted to the death sentence) but they seem isolated from each other and the book splits as a consequence. Nevertheless, Brigid is sufficiently individual a character to warrant our attention and our affection, though thorny old girl that she is, she might not be altogether best pleased to hear about this last.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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