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A Field of Darkness (Madeline Dare, Book 1) (A Madeline Dare Novel) Paperback – July 11, 2007

3.8 out of 5 stars 79 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Read's impressive debut stars the unusual Madeline Dare, a jumble of contradictions who comes from an old-money Long Island family but is married to Dean, a railroad worker, in Syracuse, N.Y., which our heroine likens in a moment of exasperation to "some mental dust bowl." Dean's job requires frequent travel, while Madeline writes fluff features for the local newspaper. Nothing in her background prepares her for trying to solve the bizarre 20-year-old murder of two young women, a crime that her cousin, Lapthorne Townsend, might have been involved in. Read writes with verve and passion as Madeline sets out to clear her cousin's name, an effort that develops into a much larger, life-changing struggle. Some readers may find Madeline's volatile character less than credible, but the fine supporting cast—notably husband Dean and flaky, flamboyant friend Ellis—consistently delights. The author's sharp social commentary on everything from the idle rich to the environment adds to the pleasure. 5-city author tour. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Every page is a pleasure in this mystery debut featuring barb-wielding, ex-debutante Madeline Dare. A newspaper reporter trapped among the white trash (or "garbage blanc") of Syracuse, New York, she becomes enmeshed in the 20-year-old unsolved murder of two young hippies. The case was dubbed "the Rose Girls," for the thorny crowns encircling the victims' heads. Madeline's preposterously preppy cousin, Lapthorne Townsend, is among the suspects; his army dog tags were found at the scene of the crime. But Madeline believes he's far too feckless to engage in foul play. Bent on exonerating him, she sets out to retrace the Rose Girls' final hours, reportedly spent in the company of two soldiers at the New York State Fair. Read's plot crackles and pops, but her characters steal the show. Among them: a shifty-eyed silhouettist, a lustful livestock auctioneer, and in-laws who make the cast of Deliverance seem urbane. Madeline's own parents are irrepressible, too. "Mealtime conversation," writes Read, "was like watching Fellini and Wodehouse drop acid." This is sure to be loved by fans of comic mysteries, but don't be surprised if Tom Wolfe readers are equally smitten by Read's venomously witty portrait of a fallen WASP. Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: A Madeline Dare Novel
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; Reprint edition (July 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446699497
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446699495
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #377,645 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Cornelia Read's debut novel tells of a cynical, hard-bitten woman as she takes an interest in the fates of two generation-old, brutal, unsolved murders. The story is well set, flows nicely and parcels out clues and red herrings at the right pace. And thank the gods she didn't try to run a couple dozen subplots--this is a focused story.

What I liked best, though, was Read's writing style. You know how sometimes there's an author whose turn of phrase you just like--who could make a grocery list interesting? That is what struck me here. They say that an author's work is to put into words what most need to say but lack the phrasing. At this art--and it is a rare one in an era of plodding writing--Read is simply outstanding, a tremendously incisive chooser of the right metaphor. I found myself most interested to see what she'd come up with next.

The other area that impressed me most was character development. The protagonist's oft-disappointed humanity breathes and has a pulse. Read juggles quite a few characters and does them well. Interestingly, if there was a single child in the book (save reminisces by adults), I don't remember him or her. I sense that this was deliberate but I haven't figured out why--could be anything from puckish playfulness to an atmosphere-setter. Could be the author, a mother of twins, had strong personal reservations about children in a setting where violent murders occur.

The mystery/crime novel folks will like Read, but her style and skill will reel in a much broader audience. Me, for example.
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Format: Hardcover
< I feel like a freakin' prude reading this book, all disturbed by the lack of formal prose. Seriously - feeling like I need to suck back a cold one just to make it through the oh-so can you believe the fact that I'm, like, breaking the rules of social norms and writing all free and stuff? >

Imagine reading an entire book written like the above paragraph. See, I can do it too! And I'm not a self-proclaimed WASP or a hippy or a writer or anything!

I'm baffled Cornelia Read received praise for using such an "authentic voice." At its bare bones, it comes down to too many contractions, distracting fragments peppered across each page, sloppy "hip" (ha!) language like "...he harshes out on whoever's available" and "...but I was late for work and started to get pissy," and descriptions that begin with the word "all" (ex. "It was all creamy stucco and white..." and "its potato-potato idle all basso profundo in the predawn quiet."). I can't count how many times I rolled my eyes while reading this book - frankly, I found Read's "dazzling new voice" and "knife-like wit" tedious at best and irritating at worst.

Despite the above, I will be curious to see Read's next book. I'd like to know whether A Field of Darkness in really written in the protagonist's 1st person voice or whether this is simply Read's writing style. If it's the former case, Read went overboard; and if its the latter, I think it reflects an inexperienced writer trying to astonish the literary world with her rule-breaking prose. Yawn. It's been done.

Another reviewer said it quite well - 'It's a self-indulgent book, with clanging overtones of "clever me," and a lack of tension that makes the entire effort rather flabby.'
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Format: Hardcover
A FIELD OF DARKNESS starts, quite literally, like a house afire. The house that catches on fire --- burned down for the insurance money --- is in Syracuse. So is heroine Madeline Dare, and the house may be in better shape. Madeline is 25, a refugee from the Old Money, Eastern Socially Attractive world of the Hamptons and the Great Camps of the Adirondacks. (Perhaps the most cutting insult Madeline gets in the course of the book is a reminder from a frosty relative that she won't be allowed to buy back her parents' share in the family campground.)

So instead of summers by the lake replete with Southside cocktails (gin, lemon and syrup with a mint garnish) and winters spent indoors contemplating Winslow Homer originals and the crimes of one's forefathers, Madeline ends up in upstate New York, working for the local paper, writing about "winter drinks," green bean casserole recipes, and the wonders of the midway at the 1988 New York State Fair. You hear about culture shock, as poor Madeline experiences cultural cardiac arrest.

But Madeline (who reminds us that Syracuse is in the top four in the country in Cool Whip consumption) is not the first of her tribe to make the trip upstate from the Hamptons; her cousin Lapthorne was there years before, as a soldier at Camp Drum in the late sixties. He was there, as it turns out, at the same time as the famous murder of the unnamed, enigmatic "Rose Girls," left stark and alone in a cornfield garlanded in red and white flowers. And it turns out that one of Madeline's rustic in-laws has found Lapthorne's dog tags while plowing that very field.

That's the mystery at the center of A FIELD OF DARKNESS, and it has a lot to recommend --- tragedy, beauty, the relentless passage of time, the complete lack of motive for the killings.
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Format: Hardcover
A FIELD OF DARKNESS, a debut novel by Cornelia Read.

Madeline Dare, is the central character. The author has created a refreshingly, different fictional character. Madeline is employed as a food and drink columnist, in a small town newspaper. She is complex, streetwise, a closet debutante. She comes across as nervous, certainly not too refined and is blessed with a unique sense of humour and maybe slightly pessimistic. Much of this , I would assume would derive from the attitude of a certain branch of her own family! All of which enhances her personality. She lives in upstate New York. She does not particularly like the town in which she lives. This changes, when her often absent husband, Dean, is once again back in town!

The story starts, quite unobtrusively. The year is 1988. Syracuse. A pair of dog tags discovered in a field. Buried in the same place, where several years before, the bodies of two murdered girls were unearthed. The killer(s) were never found. The real shock for Madeline is seeing the name on the tags. The name of Lapthorne Townsend, her own second cousin and a great favourite of hers.

Madeline, against her own better judgement, and certainly those of her friends, decides to try and discover the truth. Her investigations lead her to her child-hood home where old family secrets are unlocked. She realises the full impact of proceeding with her quest, when another murder takes place. Increasingly, Maddie becomes concerned with her own safety.

As the events progress, we are introduced to other characters. Ellis is Madeline's best friend. Where Maddie has self doubts, would take time to second guess before actually committing herself, Ellis is completely different. Her maxim on life, is do it now.
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