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Into the Web

Thomas H. Cook




  A Deadly Pleasures

  Best U.S. Crime Novel of 2002

  “Taut and tense … takes readers on an unexpectedly exciting ride as it races toward its climax. It’s worth noting how elegantly Cook ends this novel. No spoilers here. Just a tip that this one gets better and better the deeper it goes.”

  —San Francisco Chronicle, Holiday Book Review Selection 2002

  “An impressive performance.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Gripping … evoking the feel of 1950s dramas like The Asphalt Jungle and 12 Angry Men. It ticks along relentlessly to a surprising conclusion.”

  —Wall Street Journal

  “Brilliant! A melancholy, beautiful and-above all-suspenseful meditation on guilt and the nature of time.”

  —Time Out New York

  “Dark and enthralling … Cook’s complicated book is a keeper.”

  —Fort Worth Star-Telegram

  “Cook masterfully weaves the present with the past … until the killer’s identity is finally revealed in a surprising twist.”

  —Tampa Tribune

  “Cook knows how to build a fascinating and complex plot and fill it full of compelling people.”

  —Rocky Mountain News

  “There are plenty of twists and turns … with suspense building throughout to a really surprise ending.”

  —The Oklahoman

  “All of Cook’s novels are master works. He is one of the best in the suspense genre.”

  —The Daily American

  “A dark and chilling suspense tale … a complex psychological drama of the interplay between hunter and prey.”


  “Compelling … down to the cleverly hatched, melancholy ending, Cook again takes readers down a dark, treacherous road into the heart of human fallibility and struggle.”

  —Publishers Weekly


  —Kirkus Reviews

  “An incredibly intense read, culminating in a true shocker of an ending.”


  “A noir masterwork, worthy of the great Cornell Wool-rich … well worth your time and patience. The story will hold you in its grip of despair until the last page, when the tiniest glimpse of light may be discerned.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Bittersweet and haunting … mesmerizing.”

  —Alfred Hitchock Mystery Magazine


  “With its passionate characters, compelling family-driven narrative and surprising conclusion, Places presents irrefutable evidence that it sometimes pays not to be afraid of the dark.”


  “A serpentine tale of long-buried secrets leading to murder and betrayal … Reminiscent of John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman.”

  —Orlando Sentinel

  “[The story] is swept along by Cook’s artistry, his insights into broken people, his austere imagery of the barren landscapes that attract them.”

  —New York Times

  “Cook writes very well; his tone is sad, even foreboding, yet almost elegiac, as he weaves …an intricate fabric of tragedy.”

  —Boston Globe

  “A strong, suspenseful story … Cook accomplishes what he consistently does so superbly: He sets the tone, creates characters, [and] engages the reader.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “Skillfully blends flashbacks with current action and his deftly drawn characters invoke both empathy and pity. In sum, a splendid performance by a gifted artist.”

  —San Diego Union-Tribune

  “A brooding excursion into the depths of the human heart, full of surprises and dread, with a stunning ending.”

  —Portsmouth Herald

  “[The] tale rush[es] toward its climax with all the doomy energy of its opening image: a swift-moving current pulling a helpless child toward rapids, a waterfall, and a watery grave.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Complex, multi-layered and haunting, Places in the Dark is as chilling as freezing rain, a novel that will get under your skin and stay there. This is a story that will make you a fan of Cook forever.”

  —Romantic Times

  “Each mystery in his puzzle box of a book becomes another mystery entirely, drawing the reader into more and more complex assessments of motive and guilt until the unthinkable seems inescapable…. Observing his main characters as they run amuck has the dread fascination of watching a slow-motion train wreck.”

  —Booklist (starred review)


  “[A] once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Cook writes powerful layered novels with original heroes who choose to walk down paths that quietly, inexorably, lead them to ever darker places in the human heart, and ultimately to breathtaking and revelatory surprises at their journeys’ ends.”

  —Minneapolis Star Tribune

  “Probably no other suspense writer takes readers as deeply into the heart of darkness as Cook…. As always, Cook’s prose is precise, his storytelling slow and deliberate. This is one powerful story.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Although it’s easy to miss the very real clues that Cook drops so artfully into the story, there’s no ignoring his savage imagery, or escaping the airless chambers of his disturbing imagination.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  “An excellent psychological thriller … Fans of psychological thrillers-and especially fans of this Edgar Award-winning author-will flock to this title.”


  “Haunting … The denouement took me by surprise and disturbed me for days.”

  —Los Angeles Times

  “An enthralling tale that cannily uses elements of the Gothic thriller.”

  —Seattle Times/Seattle Post-Intelligencer

  “Hypnotic prose and fresh scenarios set [Cook’s] suspense-ful fiction apart … If you’ve not yet been haunted by a Thomas Cook novel, now is a fine time to start.”

  —Minneapolis Star Tribune

  “A beautifully composed tale with enough plot twists to satisfy even fans who have learned to expect surprises from this talented author … [Cook] deliver[s] another indelibly haunting tale that once again demonstrates that he is among the best in the business.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Cook teases readers throughout the narrative with tantalizing bits from Graves’s own past … but he also saves the best—and most shocking revelations—until practically the last page.”

  —The Orlando Sentinel

  “This is not a novel for the faint of heart…. Cook is a master of subtlety as he weaves the past and present in and out of his own story.”

  —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


  Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

  “A seductive book.”

  —New York Times Book Review

  “Cook is a master, precise and merciless, at showing the slow-motion shattering of families and relationships…. The Chatham School Affair ranks with his best.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Intelligent … compassionate … surprising.”

  —Boston Sunday Globe

  “Cook uses the genre to open a window onto the human condition…. Literate, compelling … Events accelerate with increasing force, but few readers will be prepared for the surprise that awaits at the novel’s end.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Powerful, engaging, and deeply moving … highly recommended.”


  “A remarkable novel
of memory and buried secrets.”

  —The Armchair Detective

  “Thomas Cook is an artist, a philosopher, and a magician; his story is spellbinding.”

  —The Drood Review of Mystery

  “Swift, thoughtful and plausible … As in nearly all good crime fiction, the moral and practical complications … expand like ripples in a pond…. The Chatham School Affair is the tragic, lyrically told story of a sordid scandal, the town’s revenge on the perpetrators, and one man’s long-delayed journey toward redemption.”

  —Boston Herald

  “Moody, eloquent.”

  —San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle

  “Cook’s portrait of a small—and ultimately small-minded—town is a skillful one. And just when you think the puzzle is complete, Cook artfully presents yet another piece—rearranging all your expectations.”

  —Orlando Sentinel


  “In [his] previous novels … Cook has shown himself to be a writer of poetic gifts, constantly pushing against the presumed limits of crime fiction…. In this fine, new book, he has gone to the edge, and survived triumphantly.”

  —Charles Champlin, Los Angeles Times Book Review

  “Gripping southern drama, with its byzantine family trees, old wives’ tales, and overheated memories.”

  —Kirkus Reviews


  “The greatest mystery novel of the past ten years.”

  —Otto Penzler

  “Haunting, lyrical … a mesmerizing tale of love and betrayal.”

  —Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

  “Intense … impossible to put down.”


  “Cook has crafted a novel of stunning power, with a climax that is so unexpected the reader may think he has cheated. But there is no cheating here, only excellent storytelling.”


  “Cook’s writing is distinguished by finely cadenced prose, superior narrative skills, and the author’s patient love for the doomed characters who are the object of his Attention…. Highly recommended.”

  —Library Journal (starred review)


  “Cook builds a family portrait in which violence seems both impossible and inevitable. One of [Mortal Memory’s] greatest accomplishments is the way it defies expectations … surprising and devastating.”

  —Chicago Tribune

  “Haunting … Don’t pick this up unless you’ve got time to read it through … because you will do so whether you plan to or not.”

  —Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine





  Moon Over Manhattan

  (with Larry King)

  The Interrogation

  Places in the Dark

  Instruments of Night

  The Chatham School Affair

  Breakheart Hill

  Mortal Memory

  Evidence of Blood

  The City When It Rains

  Night Secrets

  Streets of Fire

  Flesh and Blood

  Sacrificial Ground

  The Orchids



  Blood Innocents


  Early Graves

  Blood Echoes


  Best American Crime Writing (with Otto Penzler)

  Best American Crime Writing 2002 (with Otto Penzler)

  For the People of the Book

  Erik Felice, the Tinman

  There is no such thing as shadow.

  Only air deprived of light. Erik Felice, the Tinman


  De Rerum Natura

  Kingdom County, West Virginia

  Summer, 1984


  Chapter One

  There is no older story than the return of the native, and I’d always believed that had Adam returned to Eden to walk in middle age the ruined garden once again, he might have felt an odd nostalgia for his fall. And yet I felt no such nostalgia for Kingdom County. In fact, after leaving it, I’d never expected to live there again, see the suspicious look in Sheriff Porterfield’s eyes each time I’d met him on the streets of Kingdom City. He’d never said a word to me, but I’d guessed his thoughts:

  I know you were there.

  The old sheriff had been standing on the corner only a few yards away when I’d climbed onto a bus headed for California a few days after the murders. He’d had that same accusatory look in his eyes, but he’d added a knowing grin as the bus pulled away.

  I know what you did.

  I’d just turned nineteen that year, a boy on his way to college, armed with a scholarship, seeking only to escape a bloody act, build a life far away from Kingdom County and in every way different from the one I’d lived there. If I’d had one determination as I’d taken my seat in the bus that day, it was that I would never again live in Kingdom County, never again endure its poverty and blighted hope, and certainly not the dark suspicions of Sheriff Wallace Porterfield.

  But when my father fell ill, I had no choice but move back. With both my mother and my brother Archie gone, there was no one left to care for him. And although I had nothing in common with my father, nor even so much as a tender childhood memory of him, I couldn’t let him die alone.

  The fact that he was dying was not in doubt. Doc Poole had made that clear as I sat in his office a few days after my return.

  “I want to know exactly what his condition is,” I said.

  Doc Poole leaned back in his chair. “He won’t make it through the summer, Roy.”

  It was a stifling summer afternoon, and even as Doc Poole spoke, the two of us facing each other across his old wooden desk, I knew that a few miles away my father had already retired to his sweltering bedroom, its door sternly closed, as it always had been, my father secluded not only within that steaming space but within himself as well, a chamber just as airless and overheated as the room in which he lay.

  “In the last stage of liver cancer there’s really nothing to be done,” Doc Poole added. “So I wouldn’t waste any time on false hope.”

  “I never have,” I said casually.

  “What did Jesse tell you about his situation?”

  “Just that he had cancer. He didn’t say he was in the last stage of anything. He didn’t even ask me to come home.”

  “Well, I’m glad you did,” Doc Poole told me. “You can help him stay comfortable.”

  “I’ll do what I can,” I said crisply.

  Keep him comfortable, that was my sole purpose in coming home, simply to care for my father’s most immediate needs, nothing more. I had not come home to reconcile with him, win his approval, or confess anything. As far as I was concerned my father was a crude and ignorant man who took a bullish pride in his crudity and ignorance, wore them like badges of honor. So much so that he often seemed determined to offend me, forever sprawled in his musty, littered bedroom, wearing nothing but boxer shorts and a sleeveless undershirt, his legs spread wide, a cigarette burning down to the nub in his soiled fingers. At dinner he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and noisily gulped the last swallow of iced tea, defiantly staring at me when he set down the glass. Day and night, he watched one mindless TV comedy after another, seemingly as amused by the commercials as by the programs themselves. Even in sleep he seemed bent upon disturbing me, twisting about violently as he muttered my brother’s name, Archie, Archie, as if to make it clear that my dead brother was the one he would have preferred beside him in his last days.

  I might have attributed all of this spitefulness to the simple fact that my father was dying and, therefore, unhappy. But he’d always been unhappy. I couldn’t remember a time when a rancorous misery hadn’t afflicted him. Nor did it surprise me that in his final weeks on earth this unquiet ghost continued to goad him mercilessly, giving no quarter, determi
ned to pursue him to the grave. There were even times when I thought I could hear it hissing through the air around him, a voice as dry as the sound of wind through fields of long-dead corn.

  The origin of my father’s unhappiness remained a mystery, however. He’d never spoken of his life, nor offered me the slightest entry into his shrouded past. And so I’d finally concluded that his unhappiness was like my own, something that flowed from the choices I’d made. And although our choices had been complete opposites, they’d landed us pretty much in the same boat. My father had made a bad marriage. I had chosen not to marry. He had sired two sons, and in one way or another, lost them both. I’d had no children. In both our lives, the dream of family had soured, leaving us tied cheerlessly to each other, my father yearning only for death, I yearning only to escape once again from the very place I’d fled so many years before.

  But as I realized a few days after returning to Kingdom County, my yearning to escape it was even deeper now, a need, once and for all, to put its gory legacy behind me. For by then I’d learned how violence clings to whatever it touches. You can wash the blood away but not the memory of blood, not whose it was or how it had been spilled. Innocence is fragile, and violence shatters it. A simple pair of scissors once tagged Exhibit A can never cut kite string again.

  The merest glance into my childhood bedroom, the sight of Archie’s battered guitar still propped up in the corner, could instantly evoke the sound of gunfire, clouds of blue smoke.