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At one point in Cornelia Read’s third Madeline Dare novel, Invisible Boy, Maddie is goaded by a defense attorney as she testifies in a child abuse/murder case. He notes that she has stumbled across three suspicious deaths in as many years, then asks, “So what are you, Ms. Dare, some kind of murder groupie?”

“No,” Maddie retorts with admirable — and uncustomary — restraint. “And I’m appalled by the highly inappropriate flippancy of that characterization.” 

Actually, there are perfectly good explanations as to why the rebel ex-deb keeps getting involved in murders. In Read’s terrific 2006 debut, A Field of Darkness, Maddie was working as a small-town reporter in upstate New York when she came across an intriguing cold case. Then, in 2008’s The Crazy School, she was a teacher at a Berkshires boarding school for disturbed teens when, things got, well, weird.

Now, she and her husband Dean are back in Manhattan sharing digs with an old friend and Maddie’s younger sister, Pagan. Dean’s sending out resumes and doing odd-job carpentry while Maddie takes orders at a book-catalog company.  She may be from an old-money family, but that money’s long gone. Still, it’s her own history that again propels the action when she volunteers to help her cousin clean out their family’s plot at the old Prospect cemetery in Queens. Hacking through the vegetation, she discovers the fragile bones of a three-year-old child on top of a grave.

The mystery of the dead boy’s identity is solved early on, but the why of his murder proves troubling indeed. The courtroom scenes are compelling, and subplots involving an old schoolfriend’s sudden marriage and Pagan’s childhood memories further illuminate the shadows of abusive relationships. Maddie again proves an acerbic, likeable narrator.

That Read writes so convincingly is no accident.  She freely admits to drawing on her own life when it comes to setting, characters and Maddie’s family history. Since Invisible Boy takes place in the early 1990s, future installments are eagerly anticipated.

Open Book: Grand Central Publishing sent me an advance reading copy of Invisible Boy. I bought my copies A Field of Darkness and The Crazy School. Each stands alone but read in order, they’re a triple treat.

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