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Sandrine's Case Hardcover – August 6, 2013
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this slow-burning, intricate thriller from Edgar-winner Cook (The Crime of Julian Wells), Sam Madison and his wife, Sandrine, both professors at Georgia's Coburn College (he of literature, she of history) and parents of a grown daughter, appear to have a solid marriage. But below the surface there are problems, which culminate in Sandrine's death from a cocktail of Demerol and vodka. While the coroner rules the death a suicide, the police suspect foul play and soon zero in on Sam as his wife's killer. The local prosecutor is so certain of Sam's guilt that he seeks the death penalty. In the course of the murder trial, which runs from unexpected revelations on the witness stand to torrents of legalese as the attorneys jockey for power, Sam reflects on his relationship with the brilliant, beautiful, and vexing Sandrine. Through Sam's memories, Cook pulls off the tricky task of rendering Sandrine—a lover of ancient history, particularly Cleopatra, and the intricacies of language—as vividly as if she had never died. This crime novel, one of his best, builds to an unforeseen, but earned, climax. (Aug.)
Master plotter Cook upends the traditional linear progress of the typical mystery from crime through solution (and sometimes) trial by starting this head-scratcher at the trial itself, with the opening argument of the prosecution. We sit with college professor Samuel Madison, on trial for murdering his wife, Sandrine, also a college professor, as he thinks about what has happened to him over the past week: for example, how the first responding officer on the scene seemed much more interested in what had happened than Samuel had expected; how the people in his tiny college town all seemed to have turned against him, assuming that such a socially graceless, homely man as he certainly would have killed his beautiful, faithless wife; and how excessively well prepared the prosecution seems to be. Part of the thrill of reading this unusual mystery is that we’re confined to Samuel’s head, and he’s not saying if he did indeed murder his wife. Another fine effort from the always insightful Cook. --Connie Fletcher
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The book is ultimately one of discovery and, possibly, redemption. The narrator (the professor) slowly realizes all the ways he changed from what he wanted to be, and he reflects deeply on how those changes pushed him away from his wife. The detailing of how a relationship changes as time passes is one of the strengths of the book.
The book is ultimately a mystery. You don't know if he killed his wife or if she killed herself. The narrator does a great job leaving thereader guessing, and I was super into the book and interested in figuring it out. However, the choice to use a first person narrator kind of annoyed me at point. The narrator obviously knows the answer to the mystery, but in his narration, he intentionally leaves the reader guessing in a way that can be frustrating. It's hard to both have a first person narrator and an edge of your seat mystery, and at points it did drive me a bit crazy. I also thought the ending was a little abrupt and convenient.
I do recommend the book, and it kept me entertained. But I did have a couple problems with the structure.