Thomas H. Cook

"Red Leaves"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky DEC 12, 2005)

"Family photos always lie," is the first line of Red Leaves, Thomas Cook's stunning new novel about a family under pressure. The eloquent narrator, Eric Moore, owns a camera and photo shop and photography is a motif that permeates the novel. Snapshots capture people at particular moments in their lives, but it is impossible to look at pictures and really know what lies behind the posed smiles.

Red Leaves is the story not just of Eric Moore, but of his dead mother and bitter father, his shiftless brother, Warren, his wife, Meredith, and his son, Keith. By the end of the novel, Eric has ample reason to reevaluate everything that he has assumed about each one of these individuals. He achieves "the high wisdom that only the fallen know" the hard way, through bitter experience.

Eric, Meredith, and fifteen-year-old Keith live in a beautiful home in a small town, and life is good. Meredith has a job she adores, teaching English and handling administrative duties in a local junior college. One Friday evening, Keith is asked to baby-sit for eight-year-old Amy Giordano. He agrees and everyone's lives change. The next morning, Amy is not in her bed, and her parents are crazy with worry. Who abducted their little girl? Is she still alive? Since Keith was apparently the last person to see her, suspicion naturally falls on him. The police are particularly interested in the fact that Keith is a reserved and awkward boy with few friends and low self-esteem.

Throughout the book, Cook maintains a high level of suspense, using foreshadowing and opening each section of the book with cryptic comments by the narrator made after the events of this novel have already taken place. Therefore, Red Leaves is in the nature of a jigsaw puzzle, whose pieces can be put together only after the last page is turned.

The story derives its power from Cook's marvelously descriptive writing and his careful delineation of character. The book's themes are universal: no one is exactly as he or she appears on the surface, suspicion can be corrosive, and happiness is a fragile state that too often dissipates without warning. Cook also demonstrates that, for better or worse, each of us is a product of our particular family history.

Although Eric's life seems stable and predictable, through a crazy combination of circumstances, everything that he values turns to ashes. Red Leaves suffers from a melodramatic ending that I wish had been a bit more restrained, but it is still a compelling and unforgettable work about a family's tragic disintegration.
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Bibliography: (with links to

*Frank Clemons trilogy

True Crime:


With Larry King:


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About the Author:

Thomas H. CookThomas H. Cook was born in 1947 in Fort Payne, Alabama, a small southern town in the Appalachian foothills. He 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 the prestigious Columbia University (1976). He taught college English and history at DeKalb Community College in Clarkson, Georgia, for three years before deciding -- upon publication of his first book -- to become a full-time writer. During that same period, that he taught at DeKalb, Cook was also a contributing editor and book review editor for Atlanta magazine.

He has been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award five times in four different categories, and his novel The Chatham School Affair won the Edgar for Best Novel.

He lives in New York City and Cape Cod. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014