The Crime of Julian Wells

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by Thomas H. Cook

When Julian Wells kills himself in the center of a lake in view of his home, his best friend Philip Anders and sister Loretta are left bereaved and baffled.

Philip tells Loretta, “I keep imagining myself in the boat with him. I’m completely silent, but I’m searching for what I could say to him that would change his mind.”

Julian left no note. He’d just finished a book on a Russian serial killer slated to be published in the fall.

As Philip prepares his eulogy for the memorial service, he reads Julian’s books in order of their publication. The first, The Tortures of Cuenca, has a dedication: “For Philip, sole witness to my crime.”

At the time, Philip thought the “crime” was the act of writing the book in the first place. He had tried to discourage Julian from it. Now, after Julian’s suicide, Philip wonders what Julian actually meant.

The only clue that Philip and Loretta have to work with is that Julian was studying a map of Argentina the day before he died. Philip and Julian had taken a trip to Argentina 30 years earlier after they graduating from college. They had had a guide named Marisol recommended by the American consulate.

Their trip took place in the early 1980s, in the final days of the Dirty War, when military and security forces and right-wing death squads hunted down political dissidents. An estimated 30,000 people were murdered or simply disappeared. One of them was Marisol.

Despite efforts to find her, Julian and Philip left Argentina not knowing what happened to her.

As Philip helps Loretta wind up Julian’s affairs and close his Paris apartment, he keeps coming back to how Marisol’s disappearance affected Julian. After the Argentina trip, Julian had spent his life traveling the globe, always alone, researching book after book about massacres and serial killers.

Author Thomas Cook intensifies the suspense with every chapter as Philip and Loretta retrace Julian’s footsteps. They travel from Hungary to Russia to Argentina and back to New York trying to find out more about Marisol, her fate and her hold on Julian.

Marisol becomes a shape-shifter as Philip and Loretta learn more, question more and try to find out why Julian was obsessed with her throughout his life.

Ultimately, this is a tragedy in the style of British author Graham Greene, with its themes of guilt, regret and betrayal.

Cook’s novel is a quiet masterpiece, beautifully written, absorbing and moving.

The Author: Thomas H. Cook (1947 – )

Born in Alabama, Thomas Cook started his first novel, Blood Innocents, while he was in graduate school. He has since published more than 30 novels since 1980. A film version of his 1991 novel Evidence of Blood was released in 1997.

Six of his novels have been nominated for awards, including Red Leaves in 2006, which was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Duncan Lawrie Dagger and the Anthony Award and won the Barry Award and the Martin Beck Award. His 1996 novel, The Chatham School Affair, received an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State College, Cook earned a master’s degree in American history from Hunter College and master of philosophy degree from Columbia University.

He taught English and history at Dekalb Community College in Georgia and served as book review editor for Atlanta magazine from 1978 to 1982, when he took up writing full-time.

He and his family divide their time between Cape Cod, New York City and Los Angeles.


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