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Sandrine's Case Paperback – August 12, 2014
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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.) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
My problem with the novel, the reason it's about 3.5 stars instead of 5, was the slow, and I mean really slow, pace of the book. Now, don't get me wrong--I love a good book that I can savor instead of running through, but Sandrine's Case was about 40% of the flashbacks that seemed like they'd already been written about in a previous chapter. A lot of memories, which I was expecting, but also a lot of filler, it seemed. It was like the author wanted the story to be longer, so he kept going back to rehash the same memories over and over again without purpose. I got so bored with the replays I once fell asleep while reading it (never happens to me) and frequently set the book aside to either watch TV or read another book.
In fact, the only reason I didn't give up on the book was because there were some great scenes of the novel that really caught my attention and made me want to find out the ending, so I kept going and yes, I was rewarded by a great ending. So, all in all, I'd say to take on this book if you don't mind the one issue I found. I wouldn't necessarily highly recommend it (it's one of those I feel like I'll forget about within a couple of months) but it's a pretty good read.
Thomas H. Cook has always possessed the ability to mess with the reader's logical and moral compass. You think a thing is this, when suddenly it might be that - or another thing entirely. He does not use tricks to achieve this end but, instead, harnesses extraordinary depths of empathy and human understanding.. As he did in the wonderful Red Leaves, Cook again seamlessly weaves the apparent reality with the parallax view - the same "facts" from a different angle and so challenges our premises, prejudices and (too easily arrived at) conclusions.
Sandrine is dead, Professor Samuel Madison is charged with her murder. Guilt and innocence can take many forms and nobody explores their nuances better than Thomas H Cook.
I have heard or read Mr Cook say that he considered this the best novel he had ever written, and while I disagree (I would nominate "The Crime of Julian Wells" for the honour), I can easily see why he would say it. It is a lovely piece of work, wise and mature, provoking the reader to re-examine his own past, to question his own certainties, just as its main character does it. It is one of those books that could change readers' lives, or at the very least some of their cherished assumptions about themselves and their loved ones. Do we really know others? And if we don't, do we then know ourselves? Unexamined life... etc.
Thomas H. Cook once said that he writes mysteries to talk about other things, perhaps that is the reason for his popularity in France and Japan, among other places, and a lack of popularity stateside, but anyway, this fine novel like most of his work is an example of that aim. Highly recommended!
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.