It’s time for book 7 of my 12 challenge: late last December, I decided to go ahead and do the “12 Challenge” that was going around Twitter: 12 months to read 12 books recommended by 12 friends. I specifically requested true crime and thrillers, looking for good books I haven’t read yet. Follow that link for my thoughts on the first six books.
Welcome to the Midwest.
If you’re from the Midwest, you might have the same sort of thoughts I did at the start of the novel: okay why are you taking so long to explain the Midwest?
Right. Not everyone in the world lives here.
There’s lots of corn.
I mean, there’s a lot more to it – and one of the main character’s friends comes from a bit closer to home for me, hailing from Flint, Michigan, which means the water crisis gets mentioned – but this book starts in the corn, and has a lot to do with corn.
Say hello to Riley Fisher.
Some places list The Fields as Riley Fisher Book #1, so presumably we’ll be seeing her again. She’s been recently promoted to Sergeant and the good old boys in the department aren’t happy about it. At this point Riley’s not super happy about it, either, because she’s getting a lot of pressure from a lot of different places. Personal life, family life, work life … Riley’s under a lot of pressure.
It doesn’t help that the murder that opens the book (in the corn – there’s corn everywhere, did I mention that?) combines different facets of her life. Riley’s past is shown in glimpses and flashes because she doesn’t really want to go through it all, thank you very much, but you know there’s trauma there. And the woman who was killed was part of Riley’s life Before The Trauma, so a) she doesn’t want to admit she knows her because it means addressing said Trauma, and b) she hasn’t actually seen the woman in years. So it wouldn’t have been a happy reunion even if both women had been alive.
Did I mention the corn?
I mean, the book’s called “the fields,” opens with a death in a corn field, and takes place in Iowa. The corn’s going to play a role in this. From farmers using drones to inspect their fields, to the intricacies of private versus collective farms, to the science of growing more or better or different corn … there’s a lot of corn in this book.
It’s not the only thing. We’ve already touched on murder, and there are issues with homelessness and drugs. Families have secrets, and not just Riley’s. There’s actually a lot going on in this book, and even when Riley seems to get sidetracked, you just know it’s not really a sidetrack. There has to be something useful in what she learns, even if it all seems either irrelevant or, at best, a red herring.
And here’s where I run into a wall.
That’s the thing about thrillers: you can’t always talk about the stuff that makes them cool. I try to stick to the stuff that’s on the back of the book, or on the author’s website, or in a review, because you don’t want to give things away.
So. Spoiler-free …
The book is more complicated than it first seems. Filler stuff isn’t (necessarily) filler. (Or is it? Thrillers keep you guessing.) There are times when it feels more like a Michael Crichton style techno-thriller than I was anticipating, because most of it isn’t. But even that plays with the Midwest theme: there’s that tension between the idyllic image of the old family farm and the reality of food production in the 21st century.
It’s a book I’m going to want to read again, knowing the ending and how things do – or don’t, or maybe only might – come together. Some books are a trip I only want to take once: I’m glad I went, but I saw enough, thanks, and I don’t need to go back there. I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. With The Fields, I do want to make a second trip, now that I have a better idea of what I’m looking for … in the corn.
Have you read The Fields? Do you think it makes a difference if you live in, or have spent a lot of time in, the place where a novel’s set?