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Cook, Thomas H. 1947–

Cook, Thomas H. 1947–

PERSONAL: Born September 19, 1947, in Ft. Payne, AL; son of Virgil Richard (in management) and Myrick (a secretary) Cook; married Susan Terner (a writer for radio), March 17, 1978; children: Justine Ariel. Education: Georgia State College, B.A., 1969; Hunter College, City University of New York, M.A., 1972; Columbia University, M.Phil., 1976.

ADDRESSES: HomeNew York, NY. Agent—Jim Seldes, Russell & Volkening, 50 W. 29th St., New York, NY 10017.

CAREER: Writer. U.S. Industrial Chemicals, New York, NY, advertising executive, 1970–72; Association for Help of Retarded Adults, New York, NY, clerk and typist, 1973–75; Dekalb Community College, Clarkston, GA, teacher of English and history, 1978–81; contributing editor and book review editor of Atlanta magazine, 1978–82; full-time writer, 1981–.

MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League.

AWARDS, HONORS: Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1981, for Blood Innocents, 1988, for Sacrificial Ground, 1992, for Blood Echoes: The True Story of an Infamous Mass Murder and Its Aftermath, 2005, for Into the Web, 2006 for Red Leaves, and award winner, 1996, for The Chatham School Affair; Hammett Prize, International Association of Crime Writers, 1995, for Breakheart Hill; Dagger Award Best Novel nominee, 2006, for Red Leaves.



Blood Innocents, Playboy Press (Chicago, IL), 1980.

The Orchids, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1982.

Tabernacle, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1983.

Elena, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1986.

Sacrificial Ground, Putnam (New York, NY), 1988.

Flesh and Blood, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.

Streets of Fire, Putnam (New York, NY), 1989.

Night Secrets, Putnam (New York, NY), 1990.

The City When It Rains, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

Evidence of Blood, Putnam (New York, NY), 1991.

Mortal Memory, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.

Breakheart Hill, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.

The Chatham School Affair, Bantam (New York, NY), 1996.

Instruments of Night, Bantam (New York, NY), 1998.

Places in the Dark, Bantam (New York, NY), 2000.

Taken: A Novelization, Dell (New York, NY), 2000.

The Interrogation, Bantam (New York, NY), 2002.

(With Larry King) Moon over Manhattan, New Millennium (New York, NY), 2002.

Peril, Bantam (New York, NY), 2004.

Into the Web, Bantam (New York, NY), 2004.

Red Leaves, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2005.

The Cloud of Unknowing, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.


Early Graves: A Shocking True-Crime Story of the Youngest Woman Ever Sentenced to Death Row, Dutton (New York, NY), 1990.

Blood Echoes: The True Story of an Infamous Mass Murder and Its Aftermath, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.

(Editor, with Otto Penzler) Best American Crime Writing, Vintage (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Otto Penzler) Best American Crime Writing, 2003, Vintage (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Otto Penzler) Best American Crime Writing, 2004, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2004.

(Editor, with Otto Penzler) Best American Crime Writing, 2005, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including New York Times Book Review. Contributor of short stories to periodicals.

ADAPTATIONS: Places in the Dark was adapted for audio cassette, Recorded Books, 2001; Into the Web was adapted for audio cassette, Recorded Books, 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Thomas H. Cook is a popular author of both novels and true-crime books. In both areas, the author is known for his meticulous attention to character development and setting. Cook's murder mysteries are often set in rural areas of the southern United States, where the author himself was raised. His fiction has been well received, with critics highlighting Cook's successful evocation of small-town life in the rural South and the often painful process of remembering the past. While Cook has occasionally been faulted for overworking his simple stories, he has also been cited among the mystery genre's most accomplished storytellers. As Robert Dahlin remarked in a review in Publishers Weekly, Cook knows "how to spin out a tale in an artful fashion." Cook, who is "often described as a dean of 'literary suspense,'" related to Dahlin that "physical atmosphere of place" and "reflective content" are important elements in his novels. The plots of a number of Cook's mysteries hinge on memory as well as murder, and some reviewers highlighted the author's expert rendering of the process of recollecting painful memories as an essential element of his success. While Cook himself has characterized these police procedurals as mere money-makers which enable him to write more literary fare, his attention to details of character and setting, as well as his skills as a storyteller, have earned him a respected place among successful mystery writers. For The Chatham School Affair, Cook was awarded the Mystery Writers of America's coveted Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 1996.

Cook's first publication, Blood Innocents, was written while the author was in graduate school. A police procedural set in New York City, the novel is "essentially … about the capacity of a man to hold to his goodness while pursuing a rather squalid labor—police work," Cook once explained to CA. "My scheme, if I may call it that, is to write solid and artistically sound police procedurals like Blood Innocents and Tabernacle in order to buy the time needed to write such literary efforts as The Orchids and Elena." The Orchids, a literary novel that followed Blood Innocents, was warmly received by critics, including S.L. Stebel who, in a Los Angeles Herald Examiner review, found Cook's language "imbued with the kind of image and metaphor present in our very best poetry." And in Literary Boston Lee Grove deemed The Orchids "a Holocaust novel that will blow you away … Cook wants you to be both comfortable and uncomfortable—and he succeeds, perfectly. You'll feel as cozy as a razor blade in a Halloween apple. You'll see just how easy it is for a brilliant, powerful, sensitive intellect to go bad, to weld itself to corruption. This novel, however, will never go bad and is anything but corrupt."

"In my literary novels I would like to help bring back what I think of as the 'meditative novel,'" Cook once revealed to CA, "that is, the work with a quiet, reasoned, and highly reflective voice. I prefer novels that depart somewhat from strictly linear forms of action and narrative as well as works that have taken on greater themes, rather than yet more books about middle-class or academic angst or restrictively autobiographical works, those that never venture beyond the usually rather limited experience of the novelist. In The Orchids, for example, I tried to render the density and precision of the German language into English, and to create a narrative voice that could convey the horrors of Lang-hof's experience without resorting to sensationalism of any kind. In Elena the narrative voice is that of a brother talking of his sister's life, a method by which not only a woman's life can be portrayed, but that of a man as well, so that the two genuinely merge into a single narrative tone."

Cook's detective novels and nonfiction titles of the 1990s, including Breakheart Hill, Evidence of Blood, and Blood Echoes: The True Story of an Infamous Mass Murder and Its Aftermath, have been judged by some critics in terms similar to those the author uses himself for his more literary efforts. In particular, the avoidance of linear structures and the inclusion of "greater themes" have brought Cook critical acclaim.

In Evidence of Blood Cook's protagonist, Jackson Kinley, returns to his hometown in rural Georgia for the funeral of his oldest friend, and stays on to solve a thirty-year-old murder case his late friend had been working on at the time of his death. The victim, a teenage girl, was never found, but a man was quickly arrested, convicted, and put to death. Decades later the condemned man's daughter convinces first Kinley's friend and then Kinley himself to try and find the real murderer. "Cook knows this terrain, both in locale and in disquiet," remarked Steven Slosberg in the New York Times Book Review. Although Jon L. Breen, writing in the Armchair Detective, had a few "procedural quibbles" regarding Cook's rendering of transcripts from other cases Kinley looks into, Slosberg concluded: "Evidence of Blood is a highly satisfying story, strong in color and atmosphere, intelligent and exacting." A Kirkus Reviews contributor promoted Evidence of Blood as a "gripping southern drama…. One of the better Cooks to date," and referred to the author as "lush-languaged Cook."

As with Evidence of Blood, Cook's novel, Mortal Memory, focuses on the long-term effects of a violent crime. In this work, a boy visiting friends for the afternoon returns home to find that his mother and siblings have been gruesomely killed, and his father, the presumed murderer, has run away. Years later, the young man's powerful emotions are brought to the surface again when a woman researching a book on fathers who kill their families contacts him. Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributor William A. Henry praised Mortal Memory for its surprising plot twists and satisfying conclusion, but singled out for special praise the author's mode of storytelling, which relies on "repetition and insight" as the protagonist revisits his memory of the time of the murders from different perspectives, "almost as though he were on a Freudian analyst's couch." The result "gradually elevates a sordid personal history to mythic proportions—a 'Medea' for the middle class," Henry concluded.

Like Mortal Memory, the murder at the center of Breakheart Hill—that of a high school girl—continues to affect her survivors decades after the crime. In this case, Ben Wade, now the town doctor but once secretly in love with the murdered girl, Kelli Troy, continues to carry the guilt of Kelli's death with him twenty-five years later. Although a reviewer for the Washington Post Book World faulted Cook's execution of the scenario, and New York Times Book Review critic Marilyn Stasio found the author's "painstaking variations on his theme and the delicacy of his writing" somewhat wearying, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly maintained that Cook's "expert storytelling" redeems his simple story. Breakheart Hill is "a haunting evocation that gains power and resonance with each twist of its spiral-like narration," the Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded.

In 1996 Cook gave readers his award-winning The Chatham School Affair. In this novel, Cook takes readers back to the mid-1920s, and the arrival of the beautiful Elizabeth Channing in a small Massachusetts town. Hired as a teacher of a local prep school, Channing quickly finds a fan in young Henry Griswald, who is assigned to assist the new teacher during her first year at the school. Tragically, Channing's growing relationship with a married fellow teacher ends in murder, suicide, and a mystery that haunts Henry throughout his adult life. Noting Cook's knack for building suspense, a Kirkus Reviews critic commented that "reading [The Chatham School Affair] is like watching an … avalanche in agonizing, exquisite slow-motion."

Cook followed The Chatham School Affair with the 1998 novel Instruments of Night, "an excellent psychological thriller" according to David Pitt in Booklist. Not all reviewers were as complimentary as Pitt, however. Library Journal contributor Roland C. Person maintained that Cook's "Gothic, even melodramatic, prose style … will often seem repetitious and jarring to contemporary readers." Still, Person acknowledged that the novelist's style effectively promotes both the story's "mood and setting." A Publishers Weekly critic heralded Instruments of Night as "equal" to its prize-winning predecessor, and described Instruments of Night as "a beautifully composed tale with … [satisfying] plot twists." Although noting that Cook employed some "classic [genre] device[s]" in his novel, the Publishers Weekly contributor concluded that the novelist's ability to create "harrowing situations" in his "indelibly haunting tale … demonstrates that he is among the best in the business."

Cook's 2000 novel, Places in the Dark, is set on the rocky coast of Maine, and takes place during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Explaining his choice of setting to a Mystery Guild interviewer, Cook revealed part of his technique in plotting his novels: "Coastal Maine … struck me as a place of extremity, not only in terms of its warm summers and very cold winters, but as a place where water battles stone. For me, time and place are never calculated as things separate from the story. I set the story in a particular place and time at the moment I begin to imagine it, and with one exception, I don't remember ever having changed either." The hardest part of novel writing? "Work[ing] out the 'surprise'," Cook admitted to the Mystery Guild interviewer. With each new novel "readers get more savvy about your tricks and harder to fool."

Set in 1952, The Interrogation tells the story of two police officers who have to work against the clock to investigate a the murder of a young girl before the man suspected of the crime is released from custody for lack of evidence. The officers in question, Jack Pierce and Norman Cohen, are affected by the investigation as much as the suspect, Albert Jay Smalls, for Pierce's own daughter was the victim of an unsolved murder, and Cohen, freshly returned from the war in Europe, is still in a state of shock from the horrors he witnessed there. Critics responded warmly to this brooding tale. A Publishers Weekly contributor, for example, noted that Cook "again takes readers down a dark, treacherous road into the heart of human fallibility and struggle." Connie Fletcher, writing in Booklist, found The Interrogation an "incredibly intense read, culminating in a true shocker of an ending," while a Kirkus Reviews critic praised the "irresistible premise [that] guarantees a story that's slicker and faster-moving than The Chatham School Affair." Similarly, Carol DeAngelo, writing in School Library Journal, called the same novel "a suspenseful psychological thriller with troubled characters."

After turning his hand to a novelization of a ten-episode teleplay in Taken, collaborating with television personality Larry King on the humorous private investigator novel Moon over Manhattan, and coediting several volumes of the Best American Crime Writing anthology, Cook once again turned his hand to original full-length fiction with the 2004 Peril. Written in short chapters and employing thriller-style multiple viewpoints, Peril features Sara Labriola, on the run in New York City from her Long Island life, her controlling husband, and her mob-linked father-in-law. Sara becomes the center of several different stories as she seeks to put the stubborn past behind her in this tale written by a "a kind of master puppeteer," according to Booklist contributor Connie Fletcher. A Kirkus Reviews writer found Peril a "fluent, suspenseful, synthetic yam," one lacking, however, the "staying power of Cook's more characteristic descents into the dark past." A critic for Publishers Weekly also had a mixed opinion of the same novel, complaining of "characters [that] are cookie-cutter noir," but also praising the "neat turns of phrase and tight plotting [that] make for an engaging read."

With the 2004 Into the Web, Cook once again involves readers in a tale in which the long shadows of the past impinge upon the present. When Roy Slater returns to his hometown to care for his dying father, he becomes involved in death and mayhem. His brother hangs himself in jail after confessing to a murder that happened twenty years earlier. Thereafter, Roy and his father begin investigating the former sheriff, Wallace Porterfield, thinking he may have been somehow involved in this old crime that has come back to haunt them. In the course of the investigation, father and son also work out long-standing misunderstandings between them. Reviewing this novel in, Harriet Klausner noted that Cook is "a literary giant in the psychological suspense genre and always writes a story that enthralls the audience."

In Cook's 2005 novel, Red Leaves, an eight-year-old girl goes missing and her babysitter, a youth named Keith Moore, comes under immediate suspicion. Though Keith's parents protest his innocence, his father, Eric, is not so sure. As the investigation continues, the Moore family begins to come apart as a result of fears and doubts. Reviewing the work in Booklist, David Pitt thought it was "one of Cook's best novels," and "proof that he is maturing into a gifted storyteller." Reviewing the same work in Newsweek International, Kristin Luna added further praise, calling the book "haunting" and fast paced.



American Journalism Review, August-September, 2004, Carl Sessions Stepp, "Me, Myself and I," review of Best American Crime Writing, 2004, p. 79.

Armchair Detective, summer, 1991, Jon L. Breen, review of Evidence of Blood, p. 293.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 8, 1994, William A. Henry, review of Mortal Memory, p. N11.

Booklist, February 15, 1994, Barbara Baskin, review of Sacrificial Ground, p. 1100; July, 1995, George Needham, review of Breakheart Hill, p. 1858; August, 1996, George Needham, review of The Chatham School Affair, p. 1885; May 15, 1997, Karen Harris, review of The Chatham School Affair, p. 1596; September 1, 1998, David Pitt, review of Instruments of Night, p. 69; February 15, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of The Interrogation, p. 995; May 15, 2002, Connie Fletcher, review of Best American Crime Writing, p. 1558; November 15, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Peril, p. 547; August, 2005, David Pitt, review of Red Leaves, p. 1998; September 1, 2005, Keir Graff, review of Best American Crime Writing, 2005, p. 27.

Book Watch, December, 2005, review of Red Leaves.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1991, review of Evidence of Blood, p. 1028; July 15, 1996, review of The Chatham School Affair; January 1, 2002, review of The Interrogation, p. 18; December 15, 2003, review of Peril, p. 1424.

Library Journal, October 1, 1998, Roland C. Person, review of Instruments of Night, p. 131; March 1, 2000, review of Places in the Dark, p. S8; June 15, 2000, Sarah Jent, review of Best American Crime Writing, p. 80.

Literary Boston, December, 1982, Lee Grove, review of The Orchids.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner, February 13, 1983, S.L. Stebel, review of The Orchids.

Newsweek International, July 25, 2005, Kristin Luna, review of Red Leaves, p. 87.

New York Times Book Review, October 20, 1991, Steven Slosberg, review of Evidence of Blood, p. 47; August 6, 1995, Marilyn Stasio, review of Breakheart Hill, p. 23.

People, August 20, 1990, Lorenzo Carcaterra, review of Night Secrets, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, May 4, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of Night Secrets, p. 51; September 21, 1990, review of Early Graves: The Shocking True-Crime Story of the Youngest Woman Ever Sentenced to Death Row, p. 61; December 14, 1990, Sybil Steinberg, review of The City When It Rains, p. 52; August 9, 1991, review of Evidence of Blood, p. 42; January 27, 1992, review of Blood Echoes: The True Story of an Infamous Mass Murder and Its Aftermath, p. 81; May 1, 1995, review of Breakheart Hill, p. 44; June 24, 1996, review of The Chatham School Affair, p. 44; September 7, 1998, review of Instruments of Night, p. 88; October 19, 1998, Robert Dahlin, "Stretching the Mystery Envelope," p. 43; April 17, 2000, review of Places in the Dark, p. 55; February 11, 2002, review of The Interrogation, p. 159; June 10, 2002, review of Best American Crime Writing, p. 48; July 21, 2003, review of Best American Crime Writing, 2003, p. 187; December 22, 2003, review of Peril, p. 35; July 5, 2004, review of Best American Crime Writing, 2004, p. 50; July 18, 2005, review of Best American Crime Writing, 2005, p. 201.

School Library Journal, July, 2002, Carol DeAngelo, review of The Interrogation, p. 143; February, 2004, Karen Sokol, review of Moon over Manhattan, p. 172.

Washington Post Book World, August 27, 1995, review of Breakheart Hill, p. 4.

ONLINE, (October 16, 2006), Harriet Klausner, reviews of Into the Web, Peril, and The Interrogation., (October 16, 2006), Roz Shea, review of Moon over Manhattan.

Mystery Guide, (October 16, 2006), review of Evidence of Blood.

Mystery Guild Web site, (May 19, 2001), interview with Thomas H. Cook.

Mystery Reader, (October 16, 2006), Jane Davis, review of The Interrogation.

Shots Magazine, (October 16, 2006), Ali Karim, review of Red Leaves.

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