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The Cloud of Unknowing Hardcover – January 15, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Jason Regan, a severely schizophrenic child, is found drowned in a pond behind his family's home in this unusual, chilling mystery from Edgar-winner Cook (Red Leaves). Jason's mother, Diana, believes that her ex-husband, Mark, has murdered their son. The story is narrated by Diana's brother, Dave Sears, who comes to believe Diana has gone insane. Dave has good reason to think so; their father was a raving paranoid schizophrenic. Cook employs a curious narrative structure, dividing the story into two alternating sections: one in which Dave is being interviewed by a police detective about an unnamed crime, written in second-person, and another that Dave narrates in first-person. In the beginning it's unclear if a crime occurred at all; the police rule that Jason walked into the pond on his own. Then it appears that there was not only one murder but possibly two, three or even four. Cook reveals all the pieces of the shocking story with an absolutely steady hand. It's a bravura performance. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Mania and mythology are among the intriguing topics tackled in this latest mystery from Edgar winner Cook. David and Diana Sears were raised by a paranoid schizophrenic father, who dispensed arduous intellectual quizzes and flew into frightening fits of rage. In his father's twisted world, David existed only in his brilliant sister's shadow; he was "checkers" to her "chess." When the father (referred to only as "the Old Man") dies, David is happy to see Diana getting on with her life. She marries a brainy biochemist and has a son, Jason. But it quickly becomes clear that Jason is not like other children: Could he have inherited his grandfather's devastating disease? When the boy drowns in the pond beyond just beyond his parents' rural Connecticut home, Diana resists police reports labeling his death an accident. She is certain Jason was murdered. She is soon sending David faxes and e-mails about ancient crimes and forming a disturbing attachment to David's impressionable teenage daughter. Is Diana slowly going insane? In crisp, chilling prose, Cook (Red Leaves, The Chatham School Affair) deftly juxtaposes the maddeningly complex Sears family and a straight-shooting detective "rooted in a world where crimes leap like fish from crystal streams of motivation." Allison Block
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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The very best crime writers show us the horror in everyday life, and that is Cook's specialty. This novel joins BREAKHEART HILL, THE CHATHAM SCHOOL AFFAIR, and RED LEAVES at the top of my list of favorite "Cook books." Highly recommended.
1) I'm a fan of the literary mysteries that Thomas Cook writes. They're insightful and draw you in. Intriguingly mellow, but always good.
2) I have a sibling who is paranoid/schizophrenic, so I understand its quirks on a person's personality.
3) This book melds both a good mystery yarn (in an easy-to-follow, to-and-fro, past/present narrative) with the underlying manifestations of paranoid/schizophrenia.
4. I'm buying this book for my sister as a birthday gift. She's NOT the sibling with P/S, but loves mysteries and--like me--finds the P/S sibling in our family an interesting (and at times, trying) challenge.
Dave Sears is a small-time lawyer who specializes in civil litigation. He has a good-hearted wife, and he would like his life to proceed along the same predictable path that it has always taken. However, he is soon sucked into Diana's vortex of madness in spite of his efforts to remain objective and connected to reality.
"The Cloud of Unknowing" is a strange amalgam of murder mystery and psychological suspense. The narrative is split in two. Alternating chapters tell the story from Dave's first person viewpoint and through his conversations with a detective about an unnamed crime. Cook generates enough suspense to keep the reader turning pages. Why is a cop interviewing Dave? Does Diana eventually go over the edge? Is she right that her ex-husband harmed their child? Will Dave get out of his predicament with Diana unscathed?
The book's major problem is the lack of an adequate payoff after a lengthy and sometimes tedious setup. The ambiguous conclusion fails to provide the much needed closure that the reader craves. On the plus side, Cook can craft a sentence with the best of them. When Dave's father finally passes away, Dave says, "I felt that a dark devouring force had been stilled at last. I wore his death like wings." Describing the thin line between sanity and madness, Dave makes an evocative and thoughtful statement: "We skated upon this thin layer of ice, and yet it was just thick enough to keep us from the cold and fathomless depths...." Although "A Cloud of Unknowing" doesn't have the impact of Cook's previous book, the gripping "Red Leaves," it is a literate and sensitive work that provides insight into the tragic fate of a family trapped in the lonely prison of mental illness.