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Author of the Month

Name: Thomas H. Cook

First Novel: Blood Innocents

Most Recent Book: The Murmur of Stones

'The players in this drama will stay with you long after you have closed the covers of Cook’s truly remarkable novel.'

Synopsis:
Diana Regan’s life is destroyed by the death of her son, Jason. The boy was never classed as ‘normal’ and Diana was quick to blame herself for passing on the gene that she and her brother David prayed they would not inherit or pass on from their father - schizophrenia.

Jason had always been a remote child. Despite this, he was Diana’s only child and now he is dead - pulled from the river behind the house she shared with her husband. Diana blames her husband, Mark, as he was supposed to be looking after Jason while she was gone from the house. What is regarded as an accident by the courts, Diana soon thinks of as murder by her now ex-husband. All she has to do is prove it.

David, Diana’s brother is worried about his sister’s condition. With her growing obsession over her ex-husband, she, too, appears to be showing symptoms of their father’s condition. She has also taken under her wing Patty, David’s daughter, who seems to be taking up Diana’s cause in bringing Jason’s murderer to justice. As suspicion grows, Diana’s condition seems to be out of control until events become simply too much for her - and life will never be the same for David or his family.

Review:
As with the author’s previous novel, Red Leaves, Thomas H. Cook takes a typical family and begins to peel away the layers that hide a menacing and painful core. In The Murmur of Stones, the underlying fear is about the possibility of schizophrenia trickling through the bloodline. The death of Jason is not really the main thrust of the story, it is simply the catalyst that fuels Diana’s obsession. Cook excels at slowly building up suspense with the main protagonists.

The chapters are in the form of a police interview, taking place in the present with the main story being recalled from the past. This is a method of writing that Cook now has down to a fine art.

The accounts of the Sears’ life with their father are harrowing - to say the least. Cook writes with such realism, you can feel the pain and agony tumble from the pages. The ending is ambiguous and the reader is not sure who is really telling the truth and who lying. The book is all the stronger for this ambiguity.

The players in this drama will stay with you long after you have closed the covers of Cook’s truly remarkable novel. The Murmur of Stones is another marvellous symphony of suspense that happily joins a brilliant body of work from a truly refreshing writer.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) How would you describe your books?
I would say that my books are mysteries that are themselves somewhat difficult to characterize in the sense that they are not cosies, police procedurals, thrillers or hard-boiled detective stories. I suppose I like to think of them as commercial literary fiction in which a crime is usually the central focus.
2) In your latest novel, The Murmur of Stones, and in the one before, Red Leaves, you have described the disintegration of an upper middle class family. Is this a deliberate move to try and see what can happen to a ‘normal’ family within American society today?
I have always been interested in the frailty of happiness, the shaky ground upon which it rests, but I don’t see anything particularly American about that. I think the family in RED LEAVES could certainly live in England, or almost any other largely free and secular society.
3) In The Murmur of Stones, Diana becomes obsessed with the notion of the planet as a ‘being’ and hears voices issuing from the earth. What first interested you in applying the idea of ‘Gaia’ and ancient remains within a contemporary storyline?
I decided to write about severe mental illness through the generations, particularly the terrible affliction of schizophrenia, which is highly heritable.
Within that context, I wanted to write about a search for evidence within a context of madness. Diana knows absolutely that something happened to her son, but there is no evidence of the ordinary sort for her belief, so she must seek this evidence in unorthodox places. I thought the place one would go in such a situation would, of course, be the internet, so I created in Diana a woman who wishes desperately to “prove” that her son was murdered, then added brilliance and madness. I then sent this person cruising the net, and so I had to cruise it with her. The result was that I found a vast numbers of sites that dealt with all kinds of weird stuff, strange evidence, ancient acoustics, and many of these sites mentioned Gaia, a belief that has, as it turns out, a very large following.
4) In both your recent novels, the main voice of the novel is telling the story in retrospect. Is there a particular reason for this?
I always admired the way Conrad used Marlowe as a narrator and by that means allowed him not only to relate the action of the novel, but to reflect upon it at the same time. I think this device adds very important layers to any novel in which it is used.
5) My favourite of your novels has to be ‘The Interrogation’, which, for me, has the most amazing and explosive twist I have read in many years. Without giving away the ending, which novel had the most stunning twist you ever read?
I’m not a great one for novels with twists because I think sometimes novelists get so absorbed with creating a twist that their novels become mechanical. I prefer my books to unfold organically, and so when I have a twist, it was always first a surprise to me, at which point, I realized that, My God, if I’m surprised, the reader surely will be, too. Which is my loquacious way of saying that I don’t recall any novel that has swept me away recently, at least as far as its twist.
6) Would you describe yourself as a Crime fan and if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
I am a crime fan in the sense that I like books about people in crisis, and these crises often have to do with crime. I prefer these novels to be more than puzzles, however, and prefer such books as Suzanne Berne’s A CRIME IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD or Scott Turow’s PRESUMED INNOCENT because they are beautifully written and composed, and because they are about real people, and can’t be reduced to tales that end with Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with a candle stick.
7) What is your favourite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
I thought LA CONFIDENTIAL was terrific. I also enjoyed the film version of PRESUMED INNOCENT.
8) Writers have to constantly change their format to bring freshness into their work. Who do you think is particularly pushing back the boundaries of crime fiction today?
Again, I would mention Suzanne Berne and Scott Turow, but I think it’s also quite obvious that many mainstream novels, such as SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, are essentially crime novels that somehow are not regarded as such. That is fine with me, save that I think that once a book is labelled a crime novel it tends to fall off the edge of the world as far as recognition and support from the mainstream readership is concerned, and that’s a shame for author and publisher alike..
9) You have written many books with a wide and varied range of topics. Which of your books stands out for you and why?
I look back with pride on my early “literary” novels, The Orchids and Elena, and upon THE CITY WHEN IT RAINS, which is one of my favourite of my own books. In terms of those books likely to be call mysteries, I’d say MORTAL MEMORY, THE CHATHAM SCHOOL AFFAIR, BREAKHEART HILL, PLACES IN THE DARK and RED LEAVES are my favourites. I least like the early mysteries, because they were quite formulaic, and I was pleased to leave that kind of novel behind.