Brown Sugar in Minnesota by Joe Field is a short, thrilling ride fueled by drugs and danger.
By their very definition, thrillers are high-intensity stories, and whether that manifests in the form of action or psychological drama doesn’t actually matter. Readers seek out an author like Joe Field for his ability to create an atmosphere where both types of drama can play, where readers fear what’s around the next page, but can’t help but keep turning. Brown Sugar in Minnesota is a patient, slow-burning book that digs surprisingly deep for being such a short read. It’s perfect for an afternoon of curled-up excitement, as the honorable forces of journalism and truth do battle with the greedy, corrupt murderers of the world.
Cooper Smith is an immediately likable character, and the author’s early depictions of his personal life enamor readers to him. His savior/reporter on a white steed image, albeit rough around the edges, makes it easy to root for him. Cooper slowly begins to uncover the horrible truths of a growing drug empire operating in his own backyard, and as a reporter, the story is too good (and close to home) to pass up. His close connection to the reservation and its people is what drives Coop to such dangerous lengths to expose the truth, so his desperately bold actions feel justified to readers. In other words, he is a believable hero, willing to risk everything, from his career to his very life, in order to protect the ones he loves.
The setting of the novel is essentially the present day, which lends an immediacy and relatable nature to the story from the very start. Many of the issues portrayed in this novel are still active problems in America, and while this book can’t be seen as a factual documentary, it does probe into some darker corners of modern America life that make the story all the more appealing.
The tone that the author writes with is sinister, and this is maintained throughout most of the novel, but there are occasional sparks of humor and lighter moments to break the tension – and remind you to take a breath. The need to pack a thriller with action often forces an author to skip crucial character development, or hope that the audience assumes some key plot points, in order to get on with the more “exciting” moments. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case with Field’s novel.
Great care was clearly taken to build a strong foundation for this story, and while the book itself was quite short, readers aren’t short-changed on quality writing and fully developed characters. Smokey, as the face of evil within Brown Sugar, is sincerely terrifying at times, and ruthless in his pursuit of dominance. Squaring off with a man such as that, and exposing oneself to the full firepower of a merciless drug ring, is a tall order for any man, but Coop does it with style and endearing grace.
There is a casual flow to Field’s prose, making it natural to move through quickly, rarely requiring a re-reading or giving time for a reader’s mind to wander. In combination with realistic dialogue, clear time spent on cultural research, and a skill for never wasting a word or writing a boring sentence, Joe Field takes readers on a rapid tumble through a deadly world. As the bodies begin to pile up, the bullets aimed at Coop start to fly, and the feverish close of the story will leave you on the edge of your seat. Cooper Smith is going to be a great new character in the future of this series, as Field has written a great story here, where justice, revenge and love come together spectacularly in a modern thriller that feels all too real.