“Brutality” by Ingrid Thoft is a captivating crime novel. Besides the mystery of a “who done it murder,” the author raises questions about sports brain injuries. This plot explores the theoretical and practical, the balance between loving the sport, in this case, soccer, and the compelling evidence of the dangers involved in playing it.
The story has soccer mom Liz Barone attacked in her kitchen, where she eventually dies from her injuries. Private investigator Fina Ludlow is hired by Liz’s mother to find the attacker. Through her investigation Ludlow finds out that Liz is suing her alma mater for a mild cognitive impairment head injury incurred while she was a player for New England University. Carl Ludlow, Fina’s father, decides to take the civil case as Fina tries to narrow the list of suspects: Liz’s research boss, her husband who has a hidden secret, other members of the soccer team, and a sleezy booster. In addition to the mystery the family plotline continues with her abusive older brother, a niece wondering about her actual family, and Fina’s relationship with her police friend.
The author writes what interests her. “I remember reading accounts of NFL football players suffering from cognitive impairment and other brain issues. I changed it from football to soccer. People assume its only in football and hockey but in reality the lower contact sports have a high incidence of concussions. Also, people historically think that girls do not play as hard as men so they don’t suffer from these injuries. I see it as involving the intersection of money, entertainment, identity, and what it means to be macho in our culture. I thought it had many interesting facets, making it porous on many levels.”
Fina is a great character that is independent, sarcastically humorous, tough, tenacious, and quick thinking. The only daughter in a family of three sons, and the only one not to attend law school, she stands out in the family dynamics. Her parents are dysfunctional, the mother more than the father.
Thoft stated that she came up with the idea for the character while attending a course at the University of Washington. “I learned that defense attorneys, insurance companies, and some citizens use them. The two women who taught the class were investigators, one civil and the other criminal. It gave a terrific overview. We reviewed police reports and had a whole range of guest speakers. I also made contact with some in the Seattle Police Department since it is not unusual for a retired police officer to become a PI. They let me do a ride along. It was really interesting since there were a huge variety of calls: a possible bank robbery, a detox, and someone who threw a hamburger at someone else. It gave me a real appreciation for the work a patrol officer must do. They are social workers, mediators, and have to work with a varied and difficult population. I saw the other side of the police that is rarely seen on the news today.”
The author is excited that ABC is teaming up with producer Mark Gordon to adapt the first two books into a TV series. The pilot is possibly being filmed this fall season, about a family drama set around the Ludlow family business, a high-powered personal injury law firm.
Brutality balances real-life themes with an exciting story. The protagonist is a well-developed character whose dry narration enhances the action. The sub-plot regarding the complex family dynamics is very well written.