Review of The Crime of Julian Wells by Thomas H. Cook
Overview from www.bn.com:
With THE CRIME OF JULIAN WELLS, Thomas H. Cook, one of America’s most acclaimed suspense writers, has written a novel in the grand tradition of the twisty, cerebral thriller. Like Eric Ambler’s A COFFIN FOR DIMITRIOS and Graham Greene’s THE THIRD MAN, it is a mystery of identity, or assumed identity, a journey into the maze of a mysterious life.
When famed true-crime writer Julian Wells’ body if found in a boat drifting on a Montauk pond, the question is not how he died, but why?
The death is obviously a suicide. But why would Julian Wells have taken his own life? And was this his only crime? These are the questions that first intrigue and then obsess Philip Anders, Wells’ best friend and the chief defender of both his moral and his literary legacies.
This week’s book was a little different from others that I have reviewed but not so different that I would find to be “strange.” I am not sure if that makes sense but I hope it does.
It is a mystery of sorts but not the kind I usually read. There is neither murder nor a real crime committed unless suicide counts as a crime. Yet the title proclaims that a crime has been committed, not by our narrator but his best friend, Julian Wells.
The main character, Phillip, is besieged with guilt over his friend’s death in a boat, wondering if there was something he could have done to prevent it. Here I quote from the book as the best way of explaining the exact mystery that Phillip is investigating.
“’I keep imagining myself in the boat with him,’ I said. ‘I’m completely silent, but I’m searching for what I could say to him that would change his mind.’
“’Do you find the words?’ Loretta asked.
“I shook my head. ‘No.’” p. 17
To find out what he might have said to change his friend’s mind, Phillip must first find out what caused his friend to commit suicide. There seem to be very few clues to lead him. There is no suicide note and according to Julian’s sister Loretta, there was no change in his demeanor until the very end. Julian was even plotting the next book he was to write as an author so why would he decide to kill himself instead?
This is made all the more difficult by Julian’s unusual personality that our narrator has a hard time understanding but Phillip somehow manages to realize that it must have something to do with a trip that they took to Argentina as young adults during a troubled time in Argentina’s history. Someone that he cared about disappeared but did Julian blame himself enough to kill himself all those years later? It doesn’t make sense.
As our narrator interviews more of Julian’s acquaintances, the story becomes bigger than he or Loretta ever thought possible yet something compels him to see it through until he knows the reason why his friend took his own life. He gets his answer of course but it isn’t what he expects.
The story is by no means fast-paced. There are no car chases or gun fights, only a few crazed killers and terrorists.
It is also very sad, downright depressing at times. Yet for me, I too was compelled, like Phillip, to continue on and find the answer. And the ending was realistic without being too depressing either. It was worth the read.
Contains: gruesome violence, foul language