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The Fields


The Fields

Erin Young makes her thriller debut with THE FIELDS, the first in a new series featuring Sergeant Riley Fisher.

As the head of Black Hawk County’s Investigations department, Riley has seen a little of everything: drunk drivers, veterans suffering from drug addictions, domestic disputes, even prostitutes. But nothing can prepare her for the body her team is called to investigate at Zephyr Farms, one of the many farm cooperatives in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Discovered by a farmer using a drone to check on his crops, the corpse they are met with was murdered violently, passionately and bloodily. There was no reason for a woman to be out in the middle of the field, but beyond signs of a struggle, they can find no evidence as to who she was running from or why. The only thing they do know is her identity: Chloe Miller, Riley’s childhood best friend.

As Riley and her team will be the first to tell you, hard crime like this is rare in their little corner of Iowa, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know their share of troubles. With Big Agriculture breathing down their necks, lifelong farmers have been forced to get creative to keep their homes and livelihoods. In Cedar Falls, this means going up against Agri-Co, a giant corporation that began by dominating the market in hybrid seeds, fertilizer and pesticides, eventually using these footholds to secure government deals and high-level sponsorships. To combat its growth, smaller farms have teamed up in cooperatives, while others, too proud to join ranks, have crumbled.

"THE FIELDS is a cleverly conceived crime novel that brings to mind the work of Karin Slaughter and Robert Dugoni."

The effects are never more obvious than in the neighboring town of Waterloo, where factories and processing plants have all been shut down, leaving the city open to unemployment, poverty and crime. While Cedar Falls has so far steered clear of these issues, Chloe’s murder forces the question of whether or not there is a darker side to the picturesque farm town.

When Riley and her team begin to investigate Chloe, they find some surprising leads. Her husband, a dedicated worker and food kitchen volunteer, tells police that he thought she was having an affair. Her friend, on the other hand, is certain that it was him who was unfaithful. Her wounds --- described in great, gory detail --- are clear signs of a passionate killing, but strange, bite-like marks on her body indicate a killer with serious mental issues, not an upstanding husband and citizen.

Riley’s boss is breathing down her neck for a suspect, and the pressure is high given that she beat out several other police officers --- all men --- for her title. Her boss takes no effort to hide the fact that he’d be happy to fire her and write it off as a failed attempt at diversifying. After hitting dead end after dead end, Riley finally gets a tip in the form of another body: that of Nicole King, a murdered sex worker left to decay in a remote meatpacking plant.

Like Chloe, Nicole’s body bears bite marks and is horrifically mutilated. And like Chloe, the corpse is found days after the murder, with no sign that the killer has returned or taken any great efforts to conceal his act. However, with one victim a pretty, privileged wife and the other a poor, lonely sex worker, it seems unlikely that the same person would have killed them both. But what's going on with those bite marks? Although they have yet to find a third body, Riley’s team starts whispering that a serial killer might be hiding in their small midwestern town.

As Riley is drawn deeper and deeper into the investigation, memories of her own dark past begin to resurface as she recalls the disastrous summer when she ended her friendship with Chloe and ran away to escape a traumatic night. When more bodies, suspects and dead ends turn up, Riley is forced to reckon with her painful past in order to shed light on the darkest corners of Cedar Falls.

THE FIELDS is a cleverly conceived crime novel that brings to mind the work of Karin Slaughter and Robert Dugoni. Erin Young seamlessly weaves in hard-hitting, ripped-from-the-headlines themes like Big Agriculture, addiction and even political corruption, making her book feel urgent and timely. She then grounds these complicated ideas with a heroine who readers can truly relate to and root for. She writes from many different perspectives, but Riley’s really stood out. This is not just because she is the protagonist but because Young deals out her past and hidden secrets at a perfect pace, never giving away too much while still making Riley feel real and accessible.

Stellar characters aside, the first third of THE FIELDS suffered from a serious case of information-dumping. While I enjoyed learning about Big Agriculture, it occasionally felt like Young drew upon her background as a historical fiction writer too much, supplying 10 details when one would suffice or shoving an entire backstory into a quick scene of dialogue.

When the novel picked up in the second half, I was grateful for the details, but it took a bit too long to get there. The pace was further slowed down by its secondary plotline, featuring a gubernatorial election occurring in the background of Riley’s investigation that often left me scratching my head. While both plots were tied together in a satisfying way, I believe THE FIELDS could have been much stronger had Young focused on one big scandal or the other rather than both at once.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 11, 2022

The Fields
by Erin Young

  • Publication Date: February 7, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250799414
  • ISBN-13: 9781250799418