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by Cornelia Read
Mysterious Press, May 2005
320 pages
ISBN: 089296023X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I made a rule sometime ago that I would avoid reviewing friends' books. That way I wouldn't be on a hiding to nothing if I gushed and the rest of the world thought I was nuts. And I wouldn't have to put on an Oscar-winning performance if I thought the book sucked frogs.

Then I read Cornelia Read's A FIELD OF DARKNESS and ripped up the rulebook and threw it contemptuously out of the window. I mean, rules are made to be broken. And if you're going to break them, break them in style. And in any case, if I recommend turkeys, my professional reputation is mud . . .

A FIELD OF DARKNESS made me want to run down the High Street, waving it in the air and accosting innocent passers-by and insist that they went and bought it. Like now. And I wanted to sit them down and read out the choicest bits -- and heavens knows there are enough of those.

Sometimes I think I read too much crime fiction, a lot of it decidedly so-so. Books like A FIELD OF DARKNESS are like a huge shot of adrenaline into the arm of a sometimes sagging genre.

OK, so how to describe it. Bottom line, it's about a fallen WASP. Madeline Dare comes from old money, but that dosh is long gone. It's 1988 and she's living in Syracuse, which appears to be the back of beyond, she writes fluffy bunny pieces for the local paper and she's married to Dean, who works on the railroad.

Madeline gets herself tangled in a murder investigation from 20 years back. It was known as the Rose Girls murder. Now some dog tags have turned up in the field where the girls were found, and the name on them is Lapthorne Townsend -- Madeline's favourite cousin. So of course she can't help asking some questions.

A FIELD OF DARKNESS has got humour. It's got grit. And, best of all, it's got a writing voice to sell your first born for. Read's writing is honed to diamond-sharp precision and she does throwaway phrases like no one else. And the dialogue just fizzes off the page.

The book boasts a splendid range of characters who no one could make up -- they just have to be based on people Read has encountered during her, erm, eventful life. There's Madeline's more than faintly barking mother, her latest husband Bonwit, the Nazi gardner, Madeline's best friend Ellis . . . And you suspect she might just have even more bizarre bods and off-the-wall anecdotes to keep her writing 'til, ooh the next Millennium at least.

It's incredible to think this is a debut novel, delivered as it is with style, panache and swagger. It's a must-read.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, April 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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