books you may love: Sandrine's Case by Thomas H. Cook

I can't quite remember how I stumbled upon this book but after reading the first few pages - a courtroom scene and an unexplained death - I was hooked. Professor Sam Madison, the narrator, is being tried for the death of his wife Sandrine, whose death is initially ruled by the coroner to be a suicide but the police suspect foul play and Sam is accused of murdering his wife.

The book unfolds mostly through a series of courtroom scenes and Sam's memories of his wife and the events leading up to her death, seamlessly interwoven in a neat narration technique.

Halfway through the book, the plot takes an interesting twist and Sam starts to suspect his late wife may have deliberately planned her suicide so as to make Sam appear guilty of killing her. When I reached this bit, it was an A-ha moment for me, as it was something I had started to suspect by the time. (Trust me, this is not a spoiler at all!)

Having reached thus far, I read the rest of the book in barely two sittings, curious to know what was to come next only to found the conclusion and resolution a tad disappointing.

In retrospect, looking at it from a different perspective, I think the book did end on a very poignant and perhaps even noble, even if somewhat bizarre, note, but it was not a very satisfying one for me. There were no loose ends though; it was all neatly tied up, which I always yearn for in a mystery or thriller. Any unexplained remnants and I curse the author for letting me hang loose, obviously not the place I am happy to be in.

Cook however delves into the sensitive facets of relationships and human character. There are some beautiful passages in the book that made the reading of it worthwhile.

Here is Sam describing how the little town of Coburn County altered for him during his trial -

"Coburn County was the problem, it seemed to me, a college town only seventy miles south of Atlanta, a quiet place whose privacy had been violated by the media coverage of Sandrine's death, the subsequent investigation, and, still later, my arrest. Every step I the process had further served to turn the town against me, so that ... I'd genuinely feared that no matter what the evidence - or lack of it - its stalwart citizens might well find me guilty at the end of my trial. Sandrine had once said that when she thought of hell, it was an eternal walk through a shadowy alley. By the time of my trial, I'd come to imagine it as a never-ending fall through a gallows floor."

And he talks of how his being a professor might have already rendered him guilty in the eyes of the jury.

"I faced the jury silently as Morty continued, faced these twelve women and men who, I felt certain, were quite prepared to kill me. It was obvious to me they despised me, and I knew precisely the cause of their hostility. For wasn't it just such windy professors as myself who'd poisoned their children with atheism or socialism or worse, who'd infused their previously unsullied minds with dreamy fantasies of changing the world or writing a great novel, while at the same time teaching them not one skill by which they might later find employment and thus avoid returning to their parents' homes to sit sullenly in front of the television, boiling with unrealizable hopes?"

This is the first of Cook's works that I have tried, and I think I'd like to read some more.