The theme of Masterman’s latest is what happens when bureaucratic power meets those who
may be innocent of violent crime. The end result is a story that makes our heads spin as plucky ex-FBI agent Brigid Quinn is forced to reconcile her need to get the truth with issues of guilt and her father’s violent past. Readers new to Masterman’s series are thrust into a ferocious and cinematic opening in which Brigid recalls watching a prisoner die
35 years ago. This encounter is still fresh in Brigid’s mind as she returns to Florida and back into the orbit of FBI Agent and old mate Laura Coleman.
Laura is at a crossroads, living
neither in the present nor the past. She’s recently signed on with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to work on cold case homicide investigations, eventually getting together with high-end criminal defense lawyer William Hench to work on an appeal for Marcus Creighton. On death row for
15 years, Creighton was originally convicted for murdering his wife, Kathleen, and his three children. Laura and Hench think they can find evidence that will not only fully overturn the death penalty for a life sentence but also exonerate him. If Marcus is proven innocent, the publicity will add to the current groundswell against capital punishment.
Time is of the essence. The governor has signed a new law which sets in motion a deadline for appeals. Creighton’s execution day has been moved forward. Laura is anxious to get a stay so they can recheck the most damning piece of evidence: Marcus’s finger print on the electrical plug on the hair dryer used to electrocute Kathleen while she was taking a bath. Concerned over Laura’s emotional connection to Marcus, Brigid offers to use her “connections” to help out. There is oa huge case file, including the complete court manuscripts and school photos of the three children, the last taken before they disappeared or died. Marcus had arranged for the children to be out of the house then seized the opportunity to murder Kathleen by tossing the dryer into the bathtub while one of his children stood watching, too stunned to react.
At first Brigid is certain that Creighton did it. His marriage had soured and he could no longer afford their opulent home in Vero Beach. The evidence
is overwhelming. Unfortunately, Marcus’s artist mistress, Shayna Murry, cemented Creighton’s fate. A “peccadillo turned into horrible tragedy,” Shayna blew Marcus’s alibi, denying that he was with her the night of Kathleen’s murder. Laura tells Brigid about Tracy Mack, the fingerprint examiner who first presented the leading piece of physical evidence in the case. Mack was indicted a month ago on multiple charges of erroneous and likely fraudulent findings.
As the investigation progresses, Brigid’s professional and personal boundaries become blurred. Besides having to deal with an increasingly anxious, desperate Laura, Brigid is sucked into a maelstrom of past forensic evidence, following all leads at once for both suspects and for other potential victims. Meanwhile, she has to visit her ailing
83-year-old father, now hospitalized for emphysema. After years of futile reconnections, Brigid is forced to confront his penchant for violence, the nonchalance of her brother, Todd,
and the loveless boundaries of her mother, who spent so much of her life “only half paying attention.” Standing vigil by her father’s bedside, Brigid recalls him
always “throwing things” in an era when such behavior wasn’t considered abusive.
While the ongoing back-story threads back to Tucson and to Brigid’s loyal husband, Carlo, much of the drama lies in Brigid’s encounter with
her arch-nemesis, Detective Chief Inspector Delgado, who originally convicted Creighton. Delgado remains haunted by
his failure to find the missing children. Perhaps he could have saved them if he hadn’t wasted so much time trying to get Creighton to tell him where they were. Adding complexity to the narrative are two other personalities: Todd’s current girlfriend, Madeline Stanley, who
may know more than she’s letting on about Mack’s fudged forensics, and Alison Samuels, a fervent supporter for missing and exploited children. Alison is convinced Creighton’s kids are still alive,
nonetheless advocating that Creighton pay the ultimate price for his crime. But if Creighton didn’t kill his family, who did? The killer could still be alive, out there somewhere, trying to silence Shayna Murry or any one of the investigators.
Although I found the plot a bit lackluster compared to Masterman’s last riveting outing, in which Brigid finds herself staring down the path of an evil serial poisoner, Brigid is always a gutsy and appealing character. The novel’s subject matter is more than relevant. As Brigid struggles with Creighton’s guilt, she recognizes that nothing less will justify what society has done to this man: “the alternative was unthinkable to me, an innocent man waiting for death.” The final confrontation ends in a surprise after one integral character
is brutally murdered in what Brigid suspects to be a coverup. Masterman successfully ratchets up the tension, balancing Laura and Marcus’s sympathies against the always fragile but determined Brigid.