Instruments of Night by Thomas H. Cook

There’s a really great interview with mystery writer, Thomas H. Cook, in the September ’09 issue of January Magazine. In the article Ali Karim asks the very question that puzzles me every time I finish one of Cook’s novels. Why is this man not enormously famous? I mean, perhaps he is famous in mystery circles – but even if you’re not a fan of the genre, I think you should still give Cook a go.

I picked up Instruments of Night on Friday night and read about 30 pages. It was late when I started and so eventually my eyes gave out. On Saturday I picked it up again and didn’t put it down until I finished – with a gasp, I must add – the book.  I stumbled on Cook totally by accident three or four years back. I picked up, at a second hand bookstore, his novel Breakheart Hill and read these lines: “This is the darkest story I ever heard and all my life I have labored not to tell it.” Hooked. 

Instruments of Night is the fifth novel I’ve read by Cook. It’s the story of writer Paul Graves, a man who has spent his career writing about the horrible dance between serial killer and sadist Kessler (and his accomplice, Sykes) and the man who has spent his career chasing him, Detective Slovak. Instruments of Night operates on more than one level, though. Graves has almost completed the 14th installment of his series when he is invited to upstate New York to meet with Allison Davies, mistress of an estate known as Riverwood. Fifty years ago, Allison’s best friend, Faye, was murdered on the grounds and now Allison wants Paul to “imagine what happened to Faye. And why.”

But that’s not all. Paul Graves is a tortured man. His own past is filled with ghosts, horrible ghosts. He is a beautifully nuanced character and I particularly admired the glimpse we got into his head as a writer. Perhaps Cook was revealing a little bit about himself there, I don’t know, but Paul’s imagination allowed him to write scenes, and adjust them as needed, on the fly. Using this technique, he attempts to solve the question of who killed Faye.

The way Cook juggled the three threads of this story: the mystery of Faye’s death, the stand-off between Kessler and Slovak and the past that is creeping up on Paul is nothing short of amazing. But Cook is an accomplished writer. And this is literature. Truly. Page-turning, white-knuckling, horrifying literature. In every book I’ve read by him, I’ve been amazed at how complex his characters are and Paul is no exception.

If you haven’t read Cook yet, I beg you to give him a go. He’s fabulous!