By Thomas H. Cook & narrated by Brian Holsopple. This psychological suspense novel provides a day-by-day recounting of the capital trial of Professor Samuel Madison, accused of the murder of his wife Sandrine. A first-person narration, Madison tells the reader up-front that he did kill her, which gives the author a tall mountain to scale in order to make this protagonist likeable, so he doesn’t try. The prosecutor, the police, his defense lawyer, possibly even Sandrine herself, and certainly the reader decide Sam is “one cold fish.”
Sam and Sandrine are erudite college professors at a second-rate college in a small Georgia town. He claims her death from too much alcohol and too many pills was suicide; the police and prosecutor think otherwise. He calls a note found by her deathbed a “suicide note,” but hasn’t read it. It turns out to be about her academic work, about Cleopatra, and when the police detective refers to “the Egyptian Queen,” Sam—instead of behaving like a recently bereaved husband, confronted with his dead wife’s last words—says, “Cleopatra was not Egyptian.” She was Greek, evidently. This and similar pedantics show how intellectually superior he feels to the authorities and the jury, an intellectual condescension that puts him, as he slowly realizes, in considerable risk of his life.
At first, the day in court punctuated by Sam’s lengthy flashbacks to his and Sandrine’s life together seemed awkwardly handled, though I got used to it. For the middle third of the book, I thought “too much Gone Girl,” but other readers will have to decide that for themselves. In a way, this book might not have worked if Gone Girl hadn’t preceded it. I can’t be sure, because I can’t unread those pages.
The plot is nevertheless intriguing and ends up in an interesting place. The characters—especially Madison’s attorney and several minor characters—are people the reader can imagine breathing real Georgia air. Not so much Sandrine and the daughter Alexandria, but that’s the thing with a first-person narration—is may just be that Madison’s view of them is not quite in focus, either. Holsopple does an excellent narration of most of the characters, especially the relentless prosecutor, but the venomous way his Alexandria spits out the word “Dad” in nearly every line of her dialog became like the jabbing bite of Cleopatra’s asp.