As it’s the last week of the month, it’s feature Monday, where I spotlight an author I admire. Today, it’s Cornelia Read and her Madeline Dare series. When I was first studying mysteries and thrillers in order to learn something about the genre before attempting to write one, I looked at Edgar Award winners and nominees. A Field of Darkness, the first book in this series, published in 2006, was nominated for a host of awards: Barry Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2007), Macavity Award Nominee for Best First Mystery Novel (2007), Anthony Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2007), Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel (2007).
Once I started reading it, I figured out why. Ms. Read’s writing sparkles. For starters, her sentences are glorious. They’re filled with unlikely similes, unusual word choices (just enough of them to make a reader pause in admiration, but not enough to disrupt the flow of the paragraph), and a self-deprecating, sarcastic, dark humor that is the voice of Madeline Dare. I was hooked by the first sentence in the book blurb: “Madeline Dare would be the first to tell you her money is so old there’s none left.” I ended up loving the character: a quick wit, and a ruthless cynic on the face of things, but also a woman with a soft heart and deep love for her partner, Dean.
There are four books in this series. I’ve added the book blurbs so you can get an idea of what’s in store.
- A Field of Darkness: Madeline Dare would be the first to tell you her money is so old there’s none left. A former socialite from an aristocratic family in decline, Maddie is a tough-talking, would-be journalist exiled to the rust belt of upstate New York. Her prospects for changing her dreary lifestyle seem dim–until a set of dog tags found at a decades-old murder site is linked to her family. Shocked into action, Maddie embarks on a search that takes her from the derelict smokestacks of Syracuse to the posh mansions of Long Island’s Gold Coast. But instead of the warm refuge of home, this prodigal daughter soon uncovers dark, sinister secrets that will violently challenge everything she believes in and holds dear.
- The Crazy School: Madeline Dare has finally escaped rust-belt Syracuse, New York, for the lush Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. After her husband’s job offer falls through, Maddie signs on as a teacher at the Santangelo Academy, a boarding school for disturbed teenagers. Behind the academy’s ornate gates, she discovers a disturbing realm where students and teachers alike must submit to the founder’s bizarre therapeutic regimen. From day one, Maddie feels uneasy about smooth-talking Dr. Santangelo but when she questions his methods, she’s appalled to find that her fellow teachers would rather turn on each other than stand up for themselves, much less protect the students in their care. A chilling event confirms Maddie’s worst suspicions, then hints at an even darker secret history, one that twines through the academy’s very heart. Cut off from the outside world, Maddie must join forces with a small band of the school’s most violently rebellious students-kids whose troubled grip on reality may well prove to be her only chance of salvation.
- Invisible Boy: The smart-mouthed but sensitive runaway socialite Madeline Dare is shocked when she discovers the skeleton of a brutalized three-year-old boy in her own weed-ridden family cemetery outside Manhattan. Determined to see that justice is served, she finds herself examining her own troubled personal history, and the sometimes hidden, sometimes all-too-public class and racial warfare that penetrates every level of society in the savage streets of New York City during the early 1990s.
- Valley of Ashes: Madeline Dare trades New York’s gritty streets for the tree-lined avenues of Boulder, Colorado when her husband Dean lands a promising job. Madeline, now a full-time homemaker and mother to beautiful toddler twin girls, has achieved everything she thought she always wanted, but with her husband constantly on the road, she’s fighting a losing battle against the Betty Friedan riptide of suburban/maternal exhaustion, angst, and sheer loneliness. A new freelance newspaper gig helps her get her mojo back, but Boulder isn’t nearly as tranquil as it seems: there’s a serial arsonist at large in the city. As Madeline closes in on the culprit, the fires turn deadly-and the stakes tragically personal. She’ll need every ounce of strength and courage she has to keep the flames from reaching her own doorstep, threatening all she holds most dear.
Each book is a master of suspense, narrative voice, and setting. And each is a page turner. From the get-go, Ms. Read figured out suspense and the varied ways to keep a reader turning the pages. And she captures every location in her books with an amazing ability to transport the reader right to that place. Her research must have been meticulous and thorough. There are enough details to set the stage, but not enough to grind the narrative pull to a halt.
The strange thing is that Cornelia Read has fallen off the map. After Valley of Ashes was published in 2012, she just disappeared. I can’t fault her, after writing four knock-out books in just about as many years, an author deserves a rest. But, I do wish she’d publish again; she has such talent and her books are an absolute delight to read.
So I suggest that you do yourself a favor and check out this series. It will captivate you, guaranteed.
Until next time,