In Field Of Darkness, the debut murder-mystery from Cornelia Read, the protagonist is one Madeline Dare, a cynical freelance writer of fluff pieces who comes from a wealthy family from Long Island. She is married to Dean, a railroad worker in Syracuse, New York, a place Madeline loathes - her WASP-ish ways donít quite mesh with the local white trash.
The mystery aspect comes into play when Madeline attempts to solve a murder from twenty years ago. The bizarre case was dubbed the ďRose Girls,Ē because the victims were found with thorny crowns around their heads. In a very contrived manner, Madeline is handed her father-in-lawís dogtags, found at the murder scene and just happening to belong to her cousin Lapthorne Townsend ,who just happened to be in Syracuse twenty years prior. Madeline becomes completely enthralled with the case, retracing the victimís final hours at the state fair in an effort to clear her cousinís name.
Read's debut is one of those cases where you have to break the whole down into parts and discuss them individually. First off, this is really a character-driven mystery piece more than anything else. If you like the protagonist, you are more apt to let narrative weaknesses slide. If you donít like Madeline Dare, you most likely wonít make it very far without throwing your hands up in anger. For me, Madeline got to be extremely irritating if not outright obnoxious as the story went along. You could make the argument that the novel is quirky and stylish, but there is only so much some listeners can handle.
Thatís not to say there isnít strength in the material. Irritating or not, Madeline and the cast of oddball characters are well-drawn. The snappy dialogue and keen insights might be entertaining, but the mystery becomes lost in an abundance of esoteric facts. The other strong point is the audio production Ė excellent Ė as is the performance by Hillary Huber. Mystery buffs will find this
runs more in the vein of Janet Evanovich than Michael Connelly.