A psychological courtroom thriller from Cook (The Crime of Julian Wells, 2012, etc.).
Husband and wife Sam and Sandrine Madison are both professors at Coburn College in Georgia, but one evening, Sandrine dies from an overdose of pain medications and liquor. Is it suicide or murder? Sam’s strange behavior leads to his arrest, and his subsequent murder trial forms the structure of the story, told in his own words. The couple had grown apart over the years because Sandrine saw Sam as becoming increasingly indifferent and disconnected from her. Even when he learns Sandrine has Lou Gehrig’s disease and will surely die, he shows little sympathy or emotional support. He holds his town of Coburn in contempt and considers his students ignoramuses unworthy of his erudition. (Do these kids even know that “unique” doesn’t take an adjective?) Sam’s thoughts and speech are full of literary references that further separate him from ordinary people. If he ever gets around to writing the great book he vaguely plans, he won’t write it in his office—he doesn’t have one of those—but in his “scriptorium.” So Sam is an easy man to dislike, both for the townspeople and the reader. Maybe Sandrine committed suicide, as Sam claims. Or maybe he murdered her to escape the increasing burdens of her care, as the prosecutor wants the jury to think. Day by day, the state builds its case while the defense tries to tear it down. Sam’s own memories show Sandrine’s increasing frustration and rage with him, while conversations with the defense attorney reveal more of Sam’s personality than the defense dares allow the jury to know. Defense and prosecution are equally skilled and devoted to winning their cases, so the trial’s outcome—and the truth—are not easy to predict.
A marvelous tale of human nature.