The Chatham School Affair Essay - Critical Essays

Thomas H. Cook

The Chatham School Affair

This work of fiction offers reflections of a mature person concerning a year which determined the course of his entire life. Henry Griswald was the son of the headmaster at the Chatham School for Boys as well as a student at the institution. In consequence, he was the first to be smitten by Elizabeth Channing. She appeared in the small New England town one summer’s day in 1926 and Henry’s world was irretrievably altered. Elizabeth was a competent individual, as well as an inspiring teacher. In short, she possessed all the necessary ingredients to become Chatham School’s first, and last, art teacher. For her arrival sets in motion a series of events, quite predictable in retrospect, that leave death and destruction in their wake.

Slowly and carefully Thomas Cook assembles the cast of characters: Henry Griswald, Elizabeth Channing, Leland and Abigail Reed, their daughter Mary, and Sarah Doyle. Separately, each has a past leading toward an uncertain future, but together they combine to produce a peculiarly American tragedy. A confluence of hope, despair, lust, unrequited passion, and unfortunate circumstances alters the community and all those who reside therein.

It is not uncommon in a mystery for the author to attempt to deceive the reader as to the identity of the villain of the piece. What is exceptional about THE CHATHAM SCHOOL AFFAIR is the degree to which the author misleads his audience about the nature of the crime to be considered. Cook is fond of those sudden illuminations that leave his readers shaking their heads in amazement at being caught so thoroughly out. This work demonstrates he has not lost his talent to fashion an unexpected and emotionally charged denouement.