It is 1988, and cocaine, big hair, and Madonna are all the rage. Madeline Dare, a recovering debutante and cub journalist, lives in Syracuse, New York with her husband Dean. College-educated and a brilliant inventor, Dean is still a farmboy, a townie, and thus pretty much the direct opposite of Madeline, whose admittedly disjointed world growing up consisted in large part of coming out parties, summers at the extended family's "camp" in the Adirondacks, and boarding school. Madeline (sometimes Bunny, which is her Oyster Bay Long Island uber-WASP nickname) loathes everything about Syracuse except Dean and longs to get away. She works as a lifestyles reporter at the Syracuse Weekly, the local free rag, reporting in depth on such important topics as "Hot Drinks for Winter" and "Best Midway Food Eats."
When Madeline learns about the gruesome 1969 murders of two beautiful, young, and never identified girls, she is horrified and intrigued. When her father-in-law--in the spirit of "I know something nobody else knows" tosses a set of dog-tags he plowed up in the field where the girls were found across the table at her, Madeline is terrified; the dog-tags belong to her beloved older cousin Lapthorne. What can a girl journalist do but commence an investigation? This Madeline does, an investigation she doggedly pursues even as people she knows begin to fall by the wayside, and even as it takes her to places--physical, psychological, personal--she'd really rather not venture.
Cornelia Read calls her crime fiction "WASP Noir," and has an intimate knowledge of the culture about which she writes; she, herself, as the biography on her official website tells us, was "born into the tenth (and last) generation of her mother's family to live on Oyster Bay's Centre Island." The voice Read has created for Madeline's first person narrative is original and fresh. Maddie is smart and cynical, acutely self-aware and frequently self-deprecating. Her points of reference--cultural and pop-cultural, from Puccini to Joni Mitchell to the Brothers Grimm--are wide, deep, and extraordinarily clever (but without any did-you-catch-that-one authorial winks). I knew from the first page that I would like A Field of Darkness, but it was round about page 75 or so, when Maddie's mom "perkily misquotes Arlo Guthrie for the thousandth time," that I knew I would love it.
A Field of Darkness is a brilliant first novel, an original take on a genre which is all too frequently tired and hackneyed.