A Twist of the Knife - Becky Masterman ****
I'm not entirely convinced by the hard-ass act of Brigid Quinn, the tough and experienced 60 year old ex-FBI agent of Becky Masterman's A Twist of the Knife. It does seem like a deliberate ploy to have an edgy character who is a bit morally ambiguous, keeping the reader conflicted about her bluntness but admiring how (she tells us) she gets things done. Sometimes she bends the rules, but "it's for the right reasons". Yeah. sure.
I'll give you an example that is totally unrelated to the actual case here - so no spoilers - but which is told by Quinn in the first person narration so that you have an understanding of where she is coming from. Opening her mouth once too often without thinking, Brigid Quinn says something insensitive to a fellow detective who is agonising over a failed prosecution in a child abuse case. The detective subsequently commits suicide and Quinn feels really bad about it. To try to make up for it, she sets up the man they failed to convict on a manufactured crime, planting evidence. He does time for something he didn't do, but sure Quinn knows that he was probably guilty of the other case anyway, so he deserves it and she doesn't feel bad about it. She attempts to justify her actions by implicating the reader, ending the story with a "I bet you would have done it too. Right?"
Mmmm. No, I wouldn't be so sure of that.
The tone of the closing comment however suggests that Quinn's tough-guy act might not be all it seems and that she needs some validation for the things she has done, appealing directly in this way to the reader for understanding on one or two other occasions. Even Quinn however finds her act, if act it is, hard to maintain in the case in A Twist of the Knife. She's not against the death penalty per se, as she makes clear right from the start of the novel. Why would you feel bad for some very bad guys who have done some terrible things? It's what they deserve, it's the law of the Florida state, and it's not her job to question the morality of it.
Nonetheless, her friend and former FBI colleague Laura Coleman is convinced that Death Row inmate Marcus Creighton is innocent in the matter of a cold case she is investigating, and Quinn wonders whether she isn't right. It would be a great injustice if the wrong man goes to the electric chair for the murder of Creighton's wife and three children 16 years ago. Laura however seems to be too personally and emotionally involved with Creighton to be able to view it objectively, but Quinn agrees to help out investigate some discrepancies and evidence that was overlooked in his trial. They're going to need to be quick about it, because the State authorities appear to be in a hurry to carry out the execution within a matter of weeks.
"I hope he did it", Quinn tells Laura, in her acting tough mode and in her habit of saying the stupidest of things at the wrong time, but the intention is to show that she has some sympathy, hoping that Creighton hasn't done all those years in prison for nothing, with his family all murdered and no one out looking for the real killer. Maybe Quinn isn't as tough as she thinks, and maybe she just has an unfortunate inability to state her feelings with anything else other than direct bluntness at the most inopportune moments.
There is actually good justification for this behaviour, and to her credit Becky Masterman provides an interesting account of Brigid Quinn's family background. While the Creighton case is going on and getting more complicated by the minute, Quinn's father is seriously ill in hospital. It's not just a way of dividing the time between the case and personal life, but the gathering of the family around his bedside does manage to successfully probe the cracks in her relationship with her very difficult parents and her brother Todd - a law officer in Florida - and suggest quite convincingly where Quinn's hard-nosed attitude might have come from.
Whether you warm to Quinn or not, there can be little dispute about the interesting developments that arise in the Creighton case or the mechanics of the crime element of A Twist of the Knife. The investigation fairly rattles along, takes some surprising turns and involves a wide range of locals, criminals, investigators and officials, all convincingly characterised with more than one side to their personality and each with a relationship to the law that seems to be just as conflicted and compromised as Quinn's. Most of them however, it must be said, are better than Quinn at keeping their mouth shut. It's perhaps then not so much that Masterman is seeking to create a kind of anti-hero in Brigid Quinn, as suggest that the area of law, truth and justice (and families) is a lot more complicated than you might like, and that is at least true for everyone involved in A Twist of the Knife.
A Twist of the Knife by Becky Masterman is published by W&N on Kindle on 23rd March 2017 and in hardcover on 8th June 2017.
A Twist of the Knife - Becky Masterman ****