Review // We Were Killers Once by Becky Masterman

We Were Killers Once Book Cover We Were Killers Once
Brigid Quinn Series
Becky Masterman
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
St. Martin's Press
June 4, 2019

In 1959, a family of four were brutally murdered in Holcomb, Kansas. Perry Smith and Dick Hickok were convicted and executed for the crime, and the murders and their investigation and solution became the subject of Truman Capote's masterpiece, IN COLD BLOOD. But what if there was a third killer, who remained unknown? What if there was another family, also murdered, who crossed paths with this band of killers, though their murder remains unsolved? And what if Dick Hickok left a written confession, explaining everything?

Retired FBI agent Brigid Quinn and her husband Carlo, a former priest and university professor, are trying to enjoy each other in this new stage in their lives. But a memento from Carlo's days as a prison chaplain--a handwritten document hidden away undetected in a box of Carlo's old things--has become a target for a man on the run from his past. Jerry Beaufort has just been released from prison after decades behind bars, and though he'd like to get on with living the rest of his life, he knows that somewhere there is a written record of the time he spent with two killers in 1959. Following the path of this letter will bring Jerry into contact with the last person he'll see as a threat: Brigid Quinn.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read additional disclosures here and below. 
Click here to purchase from your local Indie bookstore!

Although the fourth in a series, I found the synopsis really showcased We Were Once Killers as a stand-alone read. Of course, the other three novels within the series definitely would have given more of the backstory of Brigid Quinn, however, I don’t think any story is lost without the full knowledge of who Quinn is. What allows We Were Once Killers to stand out is the use of true crime to develop a truly alternative plot to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Author Becky Masterman uses the backdrop of Capote’s In Cold Blood and alternately lays out the story that not two, but three, murderers were responsible for the Clutter family murders and the true unsolved case of the Walker family murders. It is great storytelling as Masterman lays out the path for readers to follow the third murderer, Beaufort, as he searches for evidence that could cost him the rest of his life.   

I was intrigued by how Masterman weaved true crime into a whole new story. She found potential with developing a third murderer and using the new husband of her main character, Carlo, as a possible link to Beaufort’s freedom.

The flow of We Were Once Killers led on a straight path that made sense. With viewpoints from Beaufort, Brigid, and Carlo, I clearly could navigate the story. There was no clunkiness in the reading that made it difficult to follow. The biggest drawbacks were the slow lead into the first part of reading and chunks of dialogue that didn’t seem to sit right with the story. Another point was Carlo’s first wife really wasn’t needed. I understand using distractions as side stories within the whole, however, this just didn’t seem to work.

I stuck with We Were Once Killers because it is an interesting idea put into words. I like the true crime aspect of the plot as it gives me something more to read and learn about. Becky Masterman developed a story that is quite successful. It’s definitely a read to pick-up if you like to reimagine alternate versions of real crime stories. There are a few lulls, but it’s definitely worth the read if you love true crime.

Becky Masterman, who was an acquisitions editor for a press specializing in medical textbooks for forensic examiners and law enforcement, received her M.A. in creative writing from Florida Atlantic University. Her debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel of 2013, as well as the Macavity, Barry, and Anthony awards. She won the Tony Hillerman Fiction Award for A Twist of the Knife. Becky lives in Tucson, Arizona, with her husband.