Saturday, November 1, 2014

Book Review: The Crime of Julian Wells by Thomas H. Cook

The Crime of Julian Wells

Author: Thomas H. Cook
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Date of Publication: August 7, 2012
Pages: 288

    This novel by previous Edgar Award winning author Thomas H. Cook really has it all.  The author has created terrific, sympathetic characters, a clever serpentine plot and describes locales with atmosphere galore. The book has a surreal quality to it with an atmosphere of mystery that is hard to actually pin down.  The basic story is fairly mundane:  A writer of non-fiction novels about grotesque serial killers commits suicides and leaves cryptic clues as to why.  His sister and his best friend from college begin a quest to discover what drove him to his desperate act and what, if anything, either of them could have done to prevent it.

     Philip Anders is a Julian's slife-long friend and book critic.  He explores Julian's books for clues to his madness and constantly revisits a post-college trip that he and Julian took to Argentina.  During that trip they met a lovely young lady named Marisol, assigned by the American embassy to them as a guide. Marisol disappeared during their visit, a turn of events which disturbed Julian greatly.  One of the clues that Julian left behind was a map of Argentina onto which he had circled Marisol's hometown.  This leads Philip on a quest to ferret out the cause of Julian's despair. Philip and, eventually, Julian's sister Loretta travel to Paris, Slovakia, Budapest, Russia and finally Argentina.  The thread connecting the dots in this quest is Julian's work: his documentary writing about sadistic serial killers.  Cook goes into much detail of these true horrific and macabre killers' stories which lends an even more dreary tone to an already dreary story.

     The resolution of the story and Julian's true motive come as somewhat of a surprise and illuminate the sometimes strange twists and turns in Julian's life which Philip and Loretta discover during their travels.   The disappearance of Marisol and Julian's complicity in that disappearance are the keys to the whole plot which don't become apparent until the very end.   This is a very good book with all of the elements of a good mystery, but also with well drawn characters, expert description of locale and a steady tone of unease throughout the entire story.  I recommend it very highly.

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