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"If you want a visual for me, Madeline Dare, I'm five-five but lie and add an inch on my driver's license. When I was fourteen, old guys in bars started telling me I look like Ingrid Bergman. In daylight among the sober, I'd pass for her hockey-playing cousin, the one who's just a touch too fond of the creamed herring but still has the cheekbones and the narrow hips.

I confided this once to Dean. We were standing against each other, and since he's exactly a foot taller than I am, the top of my head fits perfectly beneath his chin.

'Fuck Ingrid,' he said, insinuating an arm around my waist and peeking down the front of my sweater. 'I vastly prefer a more buxom woman.' In that regard, he will never find this marriage a disappointment."
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Madeline Dare is the protagonist of a series of crime/mystery novels written by Cornelia Read.

The series follows Madeline, an ex-debutante from an old-money family, "money so old there's none of it left." As she tries to survive late-80's to mid-90's America alongside her husband Dean, at every corner of America she finds herself in, from Syracuse, Massachusetts, New York City, to Colorado, trouble always seems to follow her as she gets involved in several crimes and investigations. Despite not having any real experience in solving mysteries or fighting crime, the harrowing stories of her ancestry have left a deep enough mark on her soul to make her just as tough and determined as any private investigator around, and allows her to somehow survive tragedy after tragedy in her own unique way.

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The series is comprised of the following novels:

  • A Field of Darkness (2006)
  • The Crazy School (2008)
  • Invisible Boy (2010)
  • Valley of Ashes (2012)


The novel series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: In A Field of Darkness, Lapthorne's parents Binty and Kit are depicted as neglectful to say the least, though Binty in particular is noted to be irrationally harsh toward her children, and just generally misanthropic (to the point of being nicknamed "Ice Cunt" behind her back). This is listed as one of many factors that fed into Lapthorne's propensity for murder that started at a young age.
  • Adult Fear: Several examples, starting from Invisible Boy onward:
    • The plot of Invisible Boy revolves around the discovery of the body of three-year-old Teddy Underhill, who is revealed to have been killed by his mother's boyfriend. The novel covers the entirety of the investigation and the lawsuit against his mother Angela and her boyfriend Albert Williams.
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    • Madeline learns that her sister Pagan was molested when she was younger by one of their mother's exes.
    • Valley of Ashes ends with Madeline's daughter Parrish being diagnosed with autism.
  • Author Avatar: In Cornelia's own words:
    "...Like my alter-ego Madeline, I am a brittle, snarky bitch on the outside with a tender, delicate flower of a heart acting as my creamy-nougat center.
    Madeline is smarter than me, and a far better shot, and mighty quick with a snappy comeback — all the things I wish I was in real life. At least more consistently. I keep inserting her into my past so someone gets to say all the good crackling rejoinders I only think of years later, with great effort.
    And by years later, I mean a couple of decades at least.
    I seem to write books loosely based on (or perhaps more accurately, 'using as seed crystals for a generation of a please-GOD relatively sane narrative arc') things that happened to me twenty years ago, with murders thrown in so Madeline has an excuse to kick major bad-guy ass.
    Because that's who I want to be when I grow up: a kicker of major bad-guy ass.
    Or possibly Batman."
  • Awesome Mc Coolname: Madeline Ludlam Fabyan Dare. No wonder she didn't take her husband's surname Bauer.
  • Big Applesauce: Invisible Boy is set in New York City.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Invisible Boy ends with Angela Underhill not getting convicted for the death of her son, Astrid committing suicide, Madeline's mom getting married for the fourth time, and the reveal that Madeline is pregnant.
  • Boom, Headshot!: At the end of A Field of Darkness, Madeline kills Lapthorne with a shotgun blast to the head.
  • Break the Cutie: The entire series is basically this for Madeline.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Done once near the end of A Field of Darkness. After Lapthorne's funeral, Binty has the nerve to blame Madeline for reigniting his murderous desires. The last line of the chapter simply reads, "Reader, I decked the bitch."
  • Buxom Is Better: Madeline's generous chest is made mention of more than a few times, the first of which is in the quote above.
  • Chekhov's Gun: A few examples throughout the novels:
    • Madeline's shotgun in A Field of Darkness.
    • Sitzman's and Wiesner's very specific tidbits regarding helicopters and explosives in The Crazy School.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: As someone who's unceasingly plagued by guilt all her life, at least emotionally, she has all the makings of a sufferer of this trope.
  • Cool Old Lady: Elsie Underhill, Teddy's great-grandmother in Invisible Boy. Madeline's mother Constance could also count.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death/Theme Serial Killer: The murder victims in A Field of Darkness are all killed in ways inspired by old German fairy tales, including Struwwelpeter and the original Grimm stories.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Although Madeline got through her childhood relatively unscathed, she bears the weight of her ancestors' atrocities, and the neuroses of her parents and extended family, all on herself.
  • Disappeared Dad: Madeline's father left her at a young age, and lives out on a trailer in California, suffering from dementia and paranoia.
  • Downer Ending: Valley of Ashes is basically a Trauma Conga Line for poor Madeline. Her friend Cary is killed, after which she discovers Dean's affair with Setsuko, and then almost gets murdered by Setsuko. After moving back to the East Coast, her daughter Parrish is diagnosed as autistic. What hits Madeline the hardest, though, is Dean's utter inability to regain her trust.
  • Happily Married: Madeline and Dean. Until Valley of Ashes.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Madeline cries messily and often throughout the novels.
  • Kissing Cousins: Madeline admits to lusting after her cousin Lapthorne, though never does anything about it.
  • Mystery Magnet: Madeline. In an argument, Dean calls her a "lightning rod for entropy."
  • Once an Episode: Each novel has Madeline and Dean moving to a different location in America.
  • One Head Taller: As she describes in the quote above, Dean is a whole foot taller than Madeline.
  • Opposites Attract: Madeline and Dean. Madeline is a free spirit who is effortlessly erudite but woefully unequipped for the hardships of poverty. Dean is a hardworking farm boy, the quintessential self-made man. Somehow they work out very well together.
  • Red Herring: In Valley of Ashes, much is made of Madeline's attempt to investigate a string of arsons across the town she lives in. Her efforts eventually take a backseat after Cary's death, and the arsonist is later caught without any involvement on her part.
  • Shown Their Work: Cornelia borrows a lot of specific details from her own personal life and research for use in Madeline's story. Not all details are perfectly accurate, but they're just close enough to lend verisimilitude to the narrative.
  • The Snark Knight: By her own admission, Madeline's snarky tendencies are a way to keep her from wallowing in the guilt and sadness that plagues her in life.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: In The Crazy School, Dhumavati has been Santangelo's accomplice for years, despite having been raped by him. Madeline presumes that it's a case of them keeping each other's secrets.
  • Tragic Keepsake: At the end of A Field of Darkness, it's revealed that Lapthorne willed his Porsche to Madeline, on the off-chance that she was able to stop him from killing her. It stays in her possession until the end of Invisible Boy, where Astrid stole it and died from crashing it while speeding.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Madeline is endlessly pining to retain her idealized version of her old-money family, including the wealth and seeming ease of life that came with that status.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Dean has an affair with his secretary Setsuko in Valley of Ashes.


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