[Editor’s note: We don’t usually publish book reviews in The Rap Sheet blog, but try to contain them within the crime-fiction department of our “mother ship,” January Magazine. However, critic Ali Karim’s enthusiasm for The Murmur of Stones (Quercus), the recently released new novel by multiple award-winning author Thomas H. Cook, coupled with the brevity of Ali’s remarks, convinced me to place his commentary here, instead. Read on.]
I must thank publisher Quercus for releasing this new book by Thomas H. Cook in the UK, after the tour de force that was the CWA Gold Dagger-nominated Red Leaves. The Murmur of Stones (which will be released in the States in January under the title The Cloud of Unknowing) is a tremendously well-crafted work that shares a similar thematic structure with Red Leaves: both have to do with secrets hidden in the families of the dysfunctional and fractured. The narrative enfolds from the perspective of David Sears, a divorce lawyer coming to terms with the loss of his father and his young nephew, Jason, both of whom suffered from schizophrenia--and neither of whom may have died from natural causes.
After Jason--who had been placed in the care of his brilliant but distracted father, the scientist Mark Regan--is found drowned in a deep pond in their garden, Sears watches his sister Diana, Jason’s mother, slowly unravel. She suspects that her husband had a hand in their son’s death, but there is no tangible proof of any such criminality. The incident forces David to confront the past and to wonder whether there is madness in his family’s gene pool--something he can’t easily bring himself to consider or accept, because his own sanity is at stake.
As Diana’s behavior becomes more and more bizarre, her brother fears for the life of his own daughter, Patty, with whom Diana has started to form a rather peculiar bond. David’s wife, Abby, watches from the sidelines, as does his business partner.
The short chapters in Murmur are filled with dark insight, but you really cannot trust the relaying of events by either David Sears, who narrates the tale, or any of the other principal characters, because there is the smell of madness rippling throughout this yarn. It is finally obvious that many of the players here are hearing voices--and perhaps there is something behind these voices. It becomes impossible to differentiate the mad from the sane in this book, as the trail of David’s investigation leads back to Brigham mental hospital, where his father had been held, before being discharged into sister Diana’s care.
This is an uneasy story; and though its ending might be telegraphed prematurely, it still shocks the reader, who’s started to care for the characters assembled in these pages. Cook’s tale poses one interesting question that I have often found myself pondering: How insane are the people who hear voices in their heads, what this author calls “the murmur of stones”? And where exactly do such invasive voices come from?
Expect The Murmur of Stones to feature heavily in awards nominations next year. The book’s narrative is just that powerful.--Reviewed by Ali Karim