I read my first Thomas H. Cook novel last year when I discovered, by accident, Breakheart Hill. I really liked that book; I liked The Chatham School Affair even more.
I am not a mystery connoisseur by any stretch, although I admit that I’ve read a fair amount of suspense thrillers in my day. Cook belongs in another category altogether- sort of in the same way that King belongs in his own special category (and I mean that as a compliment because at the top of his game, there’s no one better than King.)
The Chatham School Affair is a richly realized mystery which unfolds as the book’s narrator, an elderly lawyer named Henry Griswald, recalls the events which transpired the year he was 15. In 1926, Henry is a student at Chatham School where his father is the director. He’s an intelligent boy, given to daydreaming and reading rather than socializing with his peers. The arrival of the new art teacher, the beautiful and well-traveled Elizabeth Channing upends Henry’s world in ways impossible to relate without revealing important plot points. Suffice to say that this book is a wonderful examination of love found and lost, of regret and honour, of sacrifice. It’s also a great mystery with a kick-ass ending.
The Chatham School Affair is not told at breakneck speed: the reader is expected to spend a little time with the characters…but it’s worth it. Cook’s writing is often lyrical – not all that common in ‘crime fiction.’ In fact, I have a hard time with that label. Henry is a wonderful narrator, sympathetic even, but what I admired most of all about this book is how Cook walked that wonderful tightrope- never vilifying any character, allowing each of them their motivations and mistakes, their dreams and, ultimately, their fates.
Two thumbs up.