The Fields by Erin Young

Robyn Young writes historical fiction in her home country of England. Under the pseudonym Erin Young, she has crossed the pond, at least in print, and penned her first thriller. Set in Waterloo, Iowa and the surrounding farm country, The Fields is a thriller that makes a statement on big agriculture and family farms.

It opens with Chloe Miller running for her life in a cornfield. When a drone approaches she curls as close to the corn stalks as possible hoping to hide from her pursuer. Days later her body is discovered by a co-op farmer surveying the crop.

From the wounds on the body it is obvious that this is a murder, making it Sergeant Riley Fisher’s first big case as head of the Investigations Division of the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Department. The pressure is intense as the sheriff wants a quick resolution, the men who wanted the promotion she got are waiting for her to fail, and the victim was a childhood friend. A friend from a time that Riley desperately wishes she could forget.

Chloe was married to James who is a researcher for GFT, a corn breeding company. They live in an affluent part of town so how did Chloe end up in the field and where is her car? James immediately becomes a suspect as he never reported his wife as missing.

Her team starts building a case, collecting evidence and conducting interviews. Then another body is found. This victim was strangled but had some of the same wounds found on Chloe. Nicole King was killed in an old meat-packing plant and evidence points to someone camping in the plant. Besides Nicole’s purse and a backpack there are lots of pill bottles from a local pharmacy. The evidence leads to a displaced veteran, George Anderson. But Anderson seems to have disappeared along with others who have been living on the streets.

The pharmacist identifies the drug as Fenozen which at least one of his former employees had been stealing. One of the suspected thieves is Sarah Foster. Sarah is known to the department because her daughter, Gracie, has been missing for weeks and believed to be a runaway.

Despite the wounds the two victims don’t have anything in common so James Miller is still Riley’s number one suspect in Chloe’s death. First the sheriff and then the governor warns her to leave James alone. Riley’s father worked for the governor in the past so he knows her but why is he steering her away from Miller?

Then Gracie is found in the river with similar wounds to the other two victims. Black Hawk County now has the requisite three bodies to think they have a serial killer. But the only thing tying the victims together is the strange wounds. The cause of death is different for each victim and they have nothing in common except their gender.

Is there one murderer, two or even three? When the FBI comes in to assist, Riley knows she has to solve the case quickly or lose it. But how do you find such an unpredictable killer or killers?

There is a lot going on in this novel. Riley has the pressures of her job and uneasy relationships with some of her colleagues plus the past trauma this case stirs up. Then there is her substance abusing brother, his fourteen year old daughter and her grandfather dying from dementia. Add in the complexities of the case along with some political intrigue and eco-terrorists and it‘s hard to keep everyone straight. I found myself stopping a time or two so I could remember where the character fit in.

Most of the story is in the third person but Riley speaks in her own voice occasionally and there are a couple of chapters from an unnamed character giving you a glimpse of someone spiraling out of control. Is this the killer or a potential victim?

I like well-developed characters and Riley fits the bill. Once all the different plot lines were in place the novel rushed to an action-packed ending. I will give you fair warning, the author doesn’t shy away from gory descriptions and there is a horror element I didn’t expect.

This is the first book featuring Riley Fisher. A second book, Original Sins, was released in March. If you like Karin Slaughter’s novels or enjoyed The Killing Hills by Offutt or Highway by C.J. Box, I recommend you give this title a try.

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Review written by Patty Crane, Reference Librarian