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The Chatham School Affair [Mass Market Paperback]

Thomas H. Cook
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 1 1997
Attorney Henry Griswald has a secret: the truth behind the tragic events the world knew as the Chatham School Affair, the controversial tragedy that destroyed five lives, shattered a quiet community, and forever scarred the young boy. Layer by layer, in The Chatham School Affair, Cook paints a stunning portrait of a woman, a school, and a town in which passionate violence seems impossible...and inevitable. "Thomas Cook's night visions, seen through a lens darkly, are haunting," raved the New York Times Book Review, and The Chatham School Affair will cement this superb writer's position as one of crime fiction's most prodigious talents, a master of the unexpected ending.

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From Amazon

In 1926 Henry Griswald was a kid, a student of the lovely and unusual Elizabeth Channing, who had recently arrived in his coastal Massachusetts village to teach art at a private school run by his father. Decades later, the people of Henry's village are still racked by guilt and troubled by uncertainty--who, or what, drove Miss Channing to madness and murder? Henry Griswald, narrator of The Chatham School Affair, holds the key. Using the same dark, brooding tone that permeated Breakheart Hill, Thomas Cook has crafted a disturbing yet entertaining psychological thriller. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Like the best of his crime-writing colleagues, Cook (Breakheart Hill) uses the genre to open a window onto the human condition. In this literate, compelling novel, he observes the lives of people doomed to fates beyond their control and imagination. One character here comments: "If you look back on your life and ask, What did I do?, then it means that you didn't do anything." Elizabeth Channing is trying to change the path of her life as, in 1926, she arrives to teach art at a small boys' school located in the Cape Cod village of Chatham. Believing that "life is best lived at the edge of folly," she immediately enthralls the novel's narrator, Henry, the headmaster's son. But Elizabeth is drawn to a fellow teacher, Leland Reed, a freethinker who is unhappily married and has begun to have serious doubts about his life. The inevitable tragedy and its aftermath is narrated by a mature, melancholy Henry looking back at the strange, bleak fates of those involved. Cook is a marvelous stylist, gracing his prose with splendid observations about people and the lush, potentially lethal landscape surrounding them. Events accelerate with increasing force, but few readers will be prepared for the surprise that awaits at novel's end. Literary boundaries mean little to Cook; crime fiction is much the better for that.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful affair Oct. 25 2006
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Thomas H. Cook's "The Chatham School Affair" is a different type of read from the sort I usually tackle, and my first novel authored by Cook.

I'm an impatient fan of the suspenseful page-turner. Reading this novel was a refreshing read. I likened it more to literary fiction than the contemporary thriller or suspense/mystery.

The prose is flawlessly written in a style so descriptive, I was moved with the characters' own emotions and felt surrounded in Cook's settings.

The actual story moves brilliantly from past to present, focusing more on the events of the past. It is the narrator's recollection of a series of events that lead to a series of deaths in small-town Massachusetts, in the late 1920's.

Despite the slower pace than that which I was used to, I found myself reading on, compelled to answer Cook's chief question, "What really happened at Black Pond that day?"

The ending ties all together neatly and unexpectedly, though there were some descriptive passages in the middle that could have been eliminated or shortened.
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5.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 stars Dec 15 2001
By xyz
Format:Mass Market Paperback
My only complaint about the book is the simple story does not really seem to merit as many as 290+ pages the book contains. As a result of this, the story seems to drag a bit in the middle, where the author became a bit rhetorical about how the characters were being trapped and longed for freedom. He seemed to have tried to hammer the message into the readers' heads a bit too hard.
But over all, it's a very good book. It's actually not so much a suspenseful mystery as a simple but compelling story about the folly of life. By letting the readers witness the whole incident through the eyes of the adolescent Henry Griswald, Cook somehow makes us grow with Henry and learn a lesson with Henry: The more you try to defy, the more you will get hurt in the end; the more arrogant you let yourself be, the more stupid you will eventually feel.
The main theme of the book is well echoed by people's testimonies in the court raising nothing but circumstantial evidence against Channing and Reed. The jurors, and probably the readers as well, were encouraged to link all the dots in whatever way they pleased. Some tried to eagerly link the dots they saw with their wildest imaginations, seeing an exotic picture behind. But more often than not, the TRUE picture might be nothing more than just a mundane drawing of the most mediocre quality.
Recognizing this humbling truth is the core of the mystery of the book. In return, the mysterious way the truth is revealed makes this truth all the more compelling.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Crime and Punishment May 26 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Seven decades later, old Henry Griswald looks back on the defining experience of his life - the tragedy known to the people of his town as the Chatham School Affair. A young woman and a married man, teachers at the school of which his father was principal, had fallen in love. It was an era in which a woman could be sent to prison for the crime of adultery, and the beautiful Miss Channing, strong willed, cultivated and empathetic, did not easily fit in to a town and a school where conventions are not lightly flouted. The teenaged Henry Griswald, chafing with adolescent angst against what he perceives to be the repressiveness of his life and the society in which he lives, projects his own romantic longings on the doomed couple. What results is a tragedy of errors in which revenge, madness and murder are the inevitable result. The point of this novel is not the plot, which is simple and I would venture to say deliberately predictable, but the gradual revelation of character in the main actors in the drama. An impressive performance that richly deserves the Edgar for Best Novel.
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4.0 out of 5 stars slow start, but strong finish Aug. 28 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
It's unfortunate that the synopsis provided on the back cover is somewhat misleading. Despite what it seems like, this is not a detective story, a whodunit type deal. Half way through the book the readers will have figured what the "affair" is all about. But, this book is not about solving a crime and finding the culprit. The so-called "affair" is in fact a simple case of adultery. What important is that this "affair" is more a setup for the readers to examine the mindsets of different characters in the story. Who has done what is not we care about. Instead we are drawn into the mind and personality of the characters. Who is this person? What is she/he thinking? How is she/he feeling about everything and everyone around? And, how has this feeling changed throughout the Chatham School Affair? One of the key characters, who is also the narrator of the story, is Henry. Why, after so many years, has Henry settled back in Chatham, a town he so despised as a boy, a place he so desperately wished to run away from? Is it because of his guilt and shame? Is it because he has changed the way he feels about his father? His town? Or is it because he has changed the way he feels about life? These and many other questions linger on in my head long after I close the book. If the readers try to understand the Chatham School Affair from such an angle, she/he will realize that this book is indeed a very good novel, not about any mysterious death or murder, but, more satisfyingly, the human soul and heart.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The Chatham Affair
This sensitively written book is one of Thomas Cook's finest. He introduces not only the characters with a flourish - but embraces the entire surroundings of the community, thus,... Read more
Published on Nov. 26 2003 by Eileen S. Ruth
4.0 out of 5 stars Another good read from Mr. Cook
Thomas Cook appears to use a similar theme in many of his psychological mysteries: the conflict between passion/impulse and the need to do good for others and society. Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2002
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent wind-up and ending, but not a great journey
I read the book, and enjoyed it very much, but I loved the whole ending better than the body of the book.
Published on June 10 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars A Five Act Tragedy
Cook writes a ckassic five act trgedy with the bizarre twist in the fifth act that unravels the lives of everyone. Read more
Published on April 17 2002 by Charles Andrews
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book!! One of the best!!
I loved this novel! The story and the characters were outstanding and the pace was pretty good. The plot revolves around a mystery that happened in the 1920's (book takes place in... Read more
Published on Jan. 24 2002 by Phillip Schoppy
2.0 out of 5 stars Cook goes to the well once too often
The two star rating may be a bit unfair, because if I had read 'The Chatham School Affair' before I read 'Breakheart Hill' I probably would have liked it much more. Read more
Published on June 12 2001 by Andy Edie
4.0 out of 5 stars Spellbinding But Deceptive
Perhaps I have become desensitized, but I found the novel to be misleading; Cook spends a great deal of time foreshadowing a tragic, haunting event that ends up seeming... Read more
Published on Sept. 21 2000 by Nick O.
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best Books I Have Ever Read
One cannot be prepared for one's first Thomas H Cook book. It is a unique, disturbing, and edifying experience. Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2000 by Joseph L Burke
5.0 out of 5 stars A Haunting, Powerful Story
In the summer of 1926, Miss Elizabeth Channing steps off the bus in Chatham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, to teach art at the Chatham Boys School. Read more
Published on July 19 2000 by Roz Levine
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