cover image Breakheart Hill

Breakheart Hill

Thomas H. Cook. Bantam Books, $21.95 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-553-09651-4

Cook's gripping 12th novel (after Mortal Memory) demonstrates that a story often counts for less than how it's told. Here, the author takes a familiar premise--a small-town tragedy in the early days of desegregation in the South--and teases out a painfully honest vision of adolescent love through the reminiscences of a middle-aged doctor who dwells as much in the past as the present. In hindsight, the incident on Breakheart Hill in 1962, during which high-school beauty Kelli Troy was murdered, seems to have infected the entire town of Choctaw, Ala.--especially Kelli's friend Ben Wade, who was secretly in love with her. It is Ben's halting back-and-forth narration, which circles the actual killing like a wary vulture, approaching it now from the present, now from the past, that redeems a story that begins by sounding overwritten and self-conscious but ends with the shock of truths discovered and truths withheld. Some painful surprises, expertly hinted at, arise as well, working as revelations of both plot and character. Because of Cook's expert storytelling, the simple plot becomes more than the sum of its parts--a haunting evocation that gains power and resonance with each twist of its spiral-like narration. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild and Mystery Guild alternates. (July)