cover image Places in the Dark

Places in the Dark

Thomas H. Cook. Bantam Books, $23.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-553-10563-6

At one point in this suspense thriller a character asks, ""What could be less mysterious than suffering?"" Exactly. This question sums up the problem with Cook's new novel, which, like his Edgar-winning The Chatham School Affair, begins with an intriguing young woman arriving in a New England town. This time the place is Port Alma, Maine, and the woman calls herself Dora March--although we soon learn that's not her real name. As in that earlier book, the woman will have a deep and dark impact on the lives of several of the town's residents. Cook tells the story in flashbacks and sidesteps in time, beginning in 1937 with lawyer Calvin Chase's decision to give up his job as deputy district attorney to investigate the stabbing death of his beloved younger brother, Billy. Dora--the woman Billy loved--has disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived, last seen boarding a train for Portland. Unfortunately, Cook loads Cal's search for Dora with too much literary and emotional baggage, throwing out and then drawing in plot threads and jumping around in time in a manner that's sure to annoy all but the most patient readers. The narrative suffers from Dora's obvious characterization as a poster child for past child abuse, and Cal's journey from Maine to New York to California is strung out with too many jerky and misleading moves. For all his gifts as a writer, Cook has seriously overreached himself in this disappointing misfire. (May)