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Guilt is an emotion stereotypically associated with Catholic and Jewish families. But as debut novelist Cornelia Read proves, it can be a considerable chunk of the WASP legacy as well.
Like journalist Madeline Dare, the protagonist of this month's A Field of Darkness (Mysterious Press), Read hails from
a distinguished old-money lineage. But her forbearers have bestowed shame as well as privilege upon her.
"It can be a dark history. Some not great things were done," observes Read, a member of the 10th and last
generation of her mother's family to live in the posh village of Centre Island, N.Y., before discussing an ancestor who perpetrated the massacre of an American Indian tribe. "I feel that with my family background, I have gotten a lot of privileges, and sometimes I am concerned about it. I want to make sure I earned my way."
By socialite standards, however, the author had an unconventional upbringing. After her parents divorced,
Read and her sister moved with their mother to Honolulu. When she met her second husband ("He was a Democrat. Horrors!" Read jokes.), the family settled in Carmel, Calif., but Read came back east to attend a prestigious boarding school and took the debutante route.
But Field of Darkness, set in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1988, takes place far from the glamorous society parties that are part of deb life. Dog tags belonging to a favorite cousin of Madeline's turn up at the site of a 19-year-old unsolved double homicide, and she sets out to clear his name. But her search leads to her dark family secrets whose excavation comes at a price.
The plot is based on the real-life, local killings of two young women, who were discovered in a field, having last been seen with a couple of soldiers. Years later, Read's father-in-law found a set of dog tags there but never brought them to police. "I am still after him to," Read asserts. "I think he's a little nervous because he doesn't want to be a suspect himself." At the time, he thought
his daughter-in-law, who worked for a local newspaper, would want to write about it, but Read, who wrote softer stories, says she didn't have the self-assurance to tackle it.
However, the Berkley, Calif., resident didn't need any familial connections to capture the attention of bestselling author Lee Child, whom she'll accompany on tour as he promotes his 10th Jack Reacher novel, The Hard Way (Delacorte), out the same month as Field of Darkness. Read's publisher even pushed up her release date from June to May so both novels would be out at the same time.
Read and Child met at the annual mystery conference sponsored by Bay Area bookstore Book Passage, when she signed up for a critique session with him. "He read the first 20 pages and was tremendously encouraging," she recalls. "He said, 'When you have a publisher, send it to me and I'd be happy to give you a blurb.' I just sat there staring
at him, going, 'Dude, you're kidding.'" -- Diane Snyder
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