(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Although Thomas H. Cook has produced several books in the Frank Clemons series, most of his novels are psychological mysteries without recurring characters. The investigators in these psychological novels are isolated, tortured individuals haunted by their own bad luck and their personal tragedies. Nevertheless, they find themselves compelled to help solve some of the more grisly murders in modern crime fiction. Cook’s protagonists typically find themselves prisoners of their own pasts. His victims are often young and rich, but the wealth that makes their lives easy cannot shield them from bloody fates. Elements of faith and sacrifice are hallmarks of his fiction, as are his realistic portrayals of violent death. He is drawn to crimes known for their ability to shock—not only in fiction, but in his true-crime books, such as A Father’s Story (1994), ghostwritten for Lionel Dahmer, father of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.

Blood Innocents

Blood Innocents (1980) begins in the Central Park Children’s Zoo, a place of frolic, fun, and innocence. This morning, however, a horrendous scene meets the eyes of bystanders. Two of the deer donated to the zoo by a wealthy entrepreneur have been stabbed to death—one deer has been stabbed fifty-seven times and the other killed with a single slash. As if this were not horrible enough, the scene has been repeated in Greenwich Village, where two women are found dead—one stabbed fifty-seven times and the other with a single slash across her neck. New Yorkers fear that a crazed killer is loose.

Meanwhile, John Reardon, a New York City police officer born into a family of officers, has nothing left but his job. His wife is dead after a prolonged illness, and he is alienated from his adult son. His bosses see his skill and dedication to his work and assign him to work exclusively on the deer slaying. When the women are discovered murdered in Greenwich Village, Reardon is assigned to that case as well. Although he has doubts about the guilt of the initial suspect, Reardon finds himself under pressure to arrest someone and bring the case to trial. Big-city politicians decide that the cases are not connected, enraging Reardon and encouraging him to initiate his own private investigation. He is personally dedicated to finding the truth though the pressure to drop his inquiry becomes intense. Reardon, like many of Cook’s heroes, has only his stubbornness and devotion to his duty to drive him on to the inevitable conclusion. Like the victims, Reardon experiences his own destruction, but in his case, it leads to his redemption and his acceptance of the consequences of his former life.

Sacrificial Ground

In Sacrificial Ground (1988), the first volume of the Frank Clemons series, Cook’s protagonist is a homicide detective in Atlanta whose beautiful teenage daughter has committed suicide and whose wife left him soon after their daughter’s death. Clemons, who is slipping into alcoholism, is called to work on a particularly puzzling murder case. The dead teenager, Angelique Devereaux, found at her autopsy to be pregnant, has apparently been living a double life. She was fabulously wealthy—living in a mansion with her sister Karen, an artist—and at the same time “slumming” in the Grant Park area art galleries and carrying on with an unknown lover. Her school friends know little about her and nothing about her activities, and Clemons begins to compare her murder to the death of his own daughter. If this rich, privileged teenager had secrets, he wonders if there might have...

(The entire section is 1473 words.)