I picked up Thomas H. Cook’s 1995 novel Breakheart Hill at the second hand store. On the cover was the tagline “a mesmerizing tale of love and betrayal” and I thought, okay, good Sunday afternoon book and bought it. The opening line is one of the most intriguing I’ve read in recent memory: “This is the darkest story that I have ever heard, and all my life I have labored not to tell it.”
The narrator of this dark tale is Ben Wade, a respected doctor in Choctaw, Alabama. As a teenager, Ben grows to love the beautiful Kelli Troy who has moved to Choctaw from the north. It is 1962. The story expertly weaves Ben’s memories of high school with present day, dropping ominous clues about just what happened the afternoon Kelli’s battered body was discovered on Breakheart Hill.
I suppose in some ways, I’ve been spoiled by mystery/thriller/suspense novels which unfold at breakneck speed; I was often impatient reading this book. Sometimes it seemed to take forever to get anywhere, but ultimately that’s one of the book’s many charms.
Breakheart Hill is a leisurely southern gothic novel, filled with a real sense of place and time. The characters are interesting and flawed and I was 100% surprised by the ending- which wasn’t a cheat even though it felt like it should have been.
If you like an intelligent mystery- that will break your heart- this is the book for you.