Archive for the ‘Thomas H. Cook’ Category

I was between books. I’d just finished one and had a week to go beforeManhattanMayhem I started those books I purposely set aside for vacation. I needed a filler. A short story book was just the answer. I could switch around, not read them all and not feel any the worse. I knew Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark, had stories by a few authors I like, primarily Thomas H. Cook, so I thought I’d give it a try. What did I have to lose?

Well, I would have lost a lot because it is totally enjoyable…a little unpublicized gem. Manhattan Mayhem was published to commemorate the Mystery Writers of America’s 70th anniversary. The hazy photo of the Empire State Building on the cover portends what you’ll find inside. Each story takes place in a different section of Manhattan-Sutton Place, the upper East Side, the Flatiron District and Central Park to name a few. At the beginning of each story is a photo of some area landmark and a small map for those of us not familiar with Manhattan’s various neighborhoods to identify where the action takes place.

The authors include Mary Higgins Clark, Thomas H. Cook, Jeffrey Deaver, Julie Hyzy as well as authors I hadn’t heard of before reading the book. The always ethereal writing of Cook is a tad less so in his story Damage Control, but the mystery is present in the misinterpretation (or is it a misinterpretation) of actions and words. It can drive a man crazy. The take off on the play Death Trap in Trapped by Ben Winters is just as suspenseful as the play. The remake of Cinderella in Margaret Maron’s The Red Headed Stepchild is, while you know the ending, totally amusing. I could go on, but I’m sure you’d rather read the stories.

I think my favorite thought must be S. J. Rozan’s Chin Yong-Yun Makes a Shiddach which only goes to show that mothers are mothers regardless of their ethnic origin.

There is a mystery for every type of mystery lover in Manhattan Mayhem.

Read Full Post »

It’s tough when your competition are masters of the trade. Ed McBain and MurderDCMichael Connelly are the masters of police procedurals. Kathy Reichs is the master of forensic anthropology. The crown goes to Arnaldur Indridason for Icelandic mysteries and Thomas H. Cook for literary mysteries. And the head honcho for journalistic mysteries is Bruce DeSilva.

So, while Neely Tucker’s journalistic mysteries, which take place in Washington, D. C., are readable, they don’t live up to the bar set by Mr. DeSilva. In Murder, D. C. Billy Ellison, the son of a prominent Black family in Washington, is found washed up on the shore of the The Bend, the former site of slave trading and currently a run-down park used primarily for drug deals. Sully Carter, reporter for ‘the newspaper’, is the journalist on the scene. Initial interviews with Billy’s mother and her employer, the prominent lawyer, Sheldon Stevens, portray Billy as a boy who had everything. However, as Sully gathers more facts, they soon change their tune, stating Billy was gay and was dealing drugs in a big way. Private investigators hired by Stevens seem to be making as little progress as the police in solving Billy’s murder.

WaysOfTheDeadThose readers who met Sully in The Ways of the Dead, know he’s a likable character. He drinks a bit…well maybe a lot. He was reporting the war in Bosnia when he got wounded and has the scars and limp to prove it. He has a good working relationship with the police as well as one of the major drug dealers in the metropolitan area. And once he gets hold of something, he rarely, if ever, lets go. So, when things don’t make sense, Sully keeps plugging away, regardless of how many times he gets beaten up, suspended from work, etc.

However, Sully Carter doesn’t have the edge and cynicism of Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan. In addition, the turmoil that the news industry is going through is totally ignored. This is surprising in that Tucker is a journalist, a staff writer at the Washington Post.

The plot of Murder, D.C. is good. The characters are good. You’ll enjoy reading Murder, D.C. I just think you’ll enjoy the Bruce DeSilva/Liam Mulligan mysteries more.

Read Full Post »

OK, I’ll start out by saying I really liked Crash & Burn by CrashBurnLisa Gardner. Although I don’t remember it, I did read Catch Me a few years ago and liked it. But while I gave that 3 stars, Crash & Burn I’ll give 5 stars to. Lisa Gardner really knows how to tell a story and build suspense. It certainly does have some major twists and turns.

The call came in to Sergeant Wyatt Foster at 5 AM. A single car accident. An Audi plowed off the road and took a nose dive. Single occupant. At the scene, it is learned that the driver’s name is Nicole Frank. In a daze, she says she must find six year old Vero. A thorough search of the area reveals no one. The search dog can only find the scent of one person. It totally baffles Wyatt and his partner Kevin, the Brain.

The investigation of the events leading up to the accident raise more questions than answers. That’s all I’m going to tell you about the plot.

Crash & Burn is action packed. While the writing is good, it does not have the literary style of say, Thomas H. Cook. It is not chock full of descriptions of the landscape and what everyone is wearing. However, Gardner weaves a great story and that is what makes you want to keep reading. Readers will immediately take to the characters. They’ll get caught up in their lives. They’ll want to unravel the mystery.

If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to put Crash & Burn down.


Read Full Post »

DancerInThedustI had to write a review of A Dancer in the Dust by Thomas H. Cook with a limit of 200 words. Impossible. So, here’s a little fuller review.

Let me start by saying I am an avid Thomas H. Cook fan, beginning with The Chatham School Affair (which I’m planning to read again, one of these days), which is my favorite still. His writing is lyrical and descriptive. His plots are unusual. His characters run the range of likeable to untrustworthy. A Dancer in the Dust is a departure from his norm, if you can actually say he has a norm.

As an idealistic college graduate, Ray Chambers decides to spend a year in the African nation of Lubanda through an organization called Hope for Lubanda. His boss was Bill Hammond. His native assistant is Seso Alaya. On his first day there, in the market, he meets Martine Aubert, a white Lubandan farmer whose father had emigrated to Lubanda many decades ago. Aubert had very distinct opinions as to what these ‘do-good’ organizations were really doing and whether they actually made Lubandan life better–no they didn’t. This was contrary to
Chambers’ opinion and those of the nation’s dictator. She was a thorn in the government’s side. But of course, Chambers fell in love with her.

Twenty years later, Alaya’s tortured body is found in an alleyway near a sleazy Manhattan hotel. He had called Hammond a week prior saying he had important information but they never met and that information was never passed. Hammond asks Chambers to investigate the murder and retrieve the information.

The scene is set. Alaya’s murder is merely the ploy for the rest of the book. The book flips back and forth between the current day and Chambers’ reminiscences about his time spent in Lubanda, especially his relationship with Martine, as well as the political climate of the country. It is also a means for Cook’s diatribe against the Westernization of underdeveloped countries.

A Dancer in the Dust kept my interest but it was certainly not up to the standards of his most recent book Sandrine’s Case or his Edgar Award winning Chatham School Affair. If you’re a Cook fan or you like more political oriented intrigue, then I’d give A Dancer in the Dust a try, but I’m certainly not going to say it’s a ‘must read’ like most of Cook’s other books.


Read Full Post »

Twelve out of 50…not a good showing for a mystery buff. I know my what reading list will be for a while.


I must say, there are few authors missing though, such as Ed McBain and Thomas H. Cook, for example.

I’m most of the way through James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia. Not loving it. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t make my top 50 list. Hope this isn’t an indication of the remainder of the books on the list. Wish me luck.

I’m open to anyone’s list of top 10 all time great mysteries or mystery authors. Send yours in.

Read Full Post »

SandrinesCaseSam Madison arrives home after teaching his night class at Coburn College, outside of Atlanta, to find his wife, Sandrine, dead in her bed, the result of an overdose of Demerol, antihistamines and alcohol (although he doesn’t necessarily know this at the time). As the police delve into the case, questions arise as to whether this apparent suicide, was indeed, suicide.

This scenario in hands other than Thomas H. Cook, could have resulted in a police procedural ready made for TV Columbo style. However, Mr. Cook, in his unique fashion, has crafted a mystery that pokes into Sam’s and Sandrine’s psyche, fleshes out their lives, and gives you glimpses into their inner turmoil.

Sandrine’s Case starts on Day 1 of Sam’s murder trial. As prosecution witnesses take the stand, you don’t hear their testimony. You relive Sam’s encounters with each one, the police officer, the detective, etc. as he recalls these encounters. You ponder what he ponders, as his mind wanders through possibilities, reminiscences, theories, projections. Just as in Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda (which I just finished and blogged about), there is a mystery. But that is not the reason for these books. Visitation Street probes the neighborhood of Red Hook and the lives of the few major characters who intersect the mystery. In Sandrine’s Case, readers explore the minds of the characters who intersect the mystery of Sandrine’s death. That is the reason to be for these books and that is one reason why you must read them.

Another reason is the writing. Mr. Cook is a master story teller. His descriptions are superb, such as “I’d noticed that his teeth were badly crooked, like rows of tilted tombstones in a desecrated cemetery.” How much more visual can you get?

There are writers that churn out book after book. You can count on them for one every six months or a year, like clockwork. Then there are those who seemingly take whatever time is required to put the right word in the right order on the page and you wait with anticipation both for the next words and the next book, not knowing when it will arrive. Thomas H. Cook is one of the latter authors. Fatherhood and Other Stories, FatherhoodAndOtherStorieswhich I recently finished, was a surprise. I didn’t even know it was coming out. Sandrine’s Case has been on my ‘must read’ list for months, since I knew beforehand when it was going to be published. Now, I have to wait for an unknown, but way too long a time for Mr. Cook’s next book. Maybe, as I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, I’ll reread TheChathamSchoolAffairThe Chatham School Affair which launched my love of his writing.

To conclude, I’ve just mentioned four books you must read: Sandrine’s Case, Fatherhood and Other Stories and The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook and Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda. What are you waiting for? Get started. You’ve got a lot a reading to do!!

Read Full Post »

How many authors do you know who can follow the rain from downtown New York to uptown on a dark, stormy night and, Fatherhoodwith each passing street, describe the sinister deeds being done? Or, have a newspaper man see a lone, forgotten, beaten boxer on the back seat of an uptown bus and learn the truth about his downward spiral? Or, on his death bed, have an aged father tell his son the truth about their estrangement?

Thomas H. Cook is known for his mysteries, my favorite (and the one that started my obsession with his writing) being The Chatham School Affair. What a marvelous book! And, every year when in Chatham, MA on Cape Cod I ask the local booksellers for a recommended local author. Unfortunately, it seems I’ve run through anyone of interest. (I’m not into cozy mysteries or sea stories, somewhat limiting my interest in the wonderful local authors who live on the Cape.) So, when I saw Fatherhood and Other Stories by Mr. Cook at Where the Sidewalk Ends, how could I pass it up? (By the way, Where the Sidewalk Ends is a must stop for any book lover on the Cape.)

There are few authors who are so able to create an atmosphere and put you right in the center. I was on that bus when Jack Burke sat down next to Irish Vinnie Teague, the Shameful Shamrock, known in the sports world for his blatant throwing of a fight. A contender before the fight; a nothing after it. I was in the thunderstorm, following it uptown, seeing the dastardly deeds being done, the rain blurring the visions.

The 11 stories in this volume run the gamut from suicide to father/son relations, to beating the odds to boxing to loneliness. I guess the best way to summarize the tone of Fatherhood and Other Stories comes from the story of Veronica, working in the Mysterious Bookstore on Christmas Eve. In the solitude of the store at that late hour, she reads and ponders the sentence “We live in the echo of our pain.” In the stories in Fatherhood we live in the echo of our pain. I’m guessing that once you taste Thomas H. Cook’s writing, you’ll become obsessed as well.

Read Full Post »

I am a Thomas H. Cook fan, ever since I purchased a copy of The Chatham School Affair while in Cape Cod. Mr. Cook is a Cape Cod resident and I was searching for a local author. I find his books literary, ethereal and different. And that can certainly be said for The Crime of Julian Wells.

Julian Wells is an author of books about horrific crimes. For instance, Andrei Chikatilo was a Soviet serial killer who confessed to 56 murders between 1978 and 1990. However, Julian doesn’t write about the killers so much as the victims and the feelings they might have had as their fate became apparent…the feelings of fear and deceit as the killer lured them to their torment. After Julian is found dead by his sister, Loretta, in a rowboat in the middle of a pond on their Montauk estate, his wrists slit, his best friend, Philip wonders what he could have done or said to change the outcome.

As he reviews Julian’s books in order prepare the eulogy, he notes the dedication in his first book is to Philip himself, “To Philip, sole witness to my crime.” This begins to make Philip wonder what that crime might have been. As he reminisces about their lives, Philip wonders whether, indeed, he knew his best friend at all.

Cook takes us on a journey of discovery as Philip relives their times together, travels to meet Julian’s contacts and unravels the mystery.  It is the manner that Cook uses to weave his story, the use of words, the back and forth between now and then that hooks you and keeps you. You have no idea what the end will be and when you get there, you wonder whether it is the end or Cook has just added another hook for you.

The Crime of Julian Wells is a worthy addition to the bibliography of Thomas H. Cook and a worthy read for mystery lovers and lovers of books with the proper words in exactly the proper place.

Read Full Post »