Thomas H. Cook was born on September 19, 1947, in Fort Payne, Alabama, the son of Virgil Richard Cook and Myrick Harper Cook. He started writing at an early age and claims that his first novel was based on his experiences with Heiman Zeidman, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who was one of only a handful of Jewish residents in Cook’s small, southern town. Zeidman, a close friend of the family, treated the young Cook as a grandson, taking him to films and even on his first trip to New York City. Cook received degrees in English and philosophy from Georgia State College in 1969 and graduate degrees in American history from Hunter College, City University of New York (1972) and Columbia University (1976). He married Susan Terner, who wrote for radio, on March 17, 1978, and has one child, Justine Ariel.
As a student Cook worked in jobs ranging from advertising executive for U.S. Industrial Chemicals to secretary for the Association for Help of Retarded Adults. He also taught English and history at DeKalb Community College in Clarkson, Georgia, for three years before making the difficult decision to become a full-time writer. Also from 1978 to1982, Cook served as contributing editor and book reviewer and editor of Atlanta magazine, where his critical abilities, his writing, and his first short stories earned praise. He also wrote a number of feature articles on midcentury America, notably the deterioration of the pop-culture movement; essays on modern southern fiction; and articles about the changes in Atlanta neighborhoods and the gentrification of some of the old neighborhoods, especially the Grant Park area, which would figure as the site of a murder in one of his novels. In addition to his mystery and detective novels, he has written several books of true crime and has contributed reviews and short fiction to a variety of popular publications including The New York Times Review of Books.