Breakheart Hill by Thomas H. Cook | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Breakheart Hill

Breakheart Hill

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by Thomas H. Cook

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From the author hailed as "an important talent, a storytelling writer of poetic narrative power" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a dazzling novel of psychological suspense. "This is the darkest story I've ever heard." With these haunting words, Thomas H. Cook begins a tale of love and its aftermath, of a town sent reeling from a moment of passionate


From the author hailed as "an important talent, a storytelling writer of poetic narrative power" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) comes a dazzling novel of psychological suspense. "This is the darkest story I've ever heard." With these haunting words, Thomas H. Cook begins a tale of love and its aftermath, of a town sent reeling from a moment of passionate betrayal. At its center was Kelli Troy and the town of Choctaw, Alabama. And on one hazy summer afternoon decades ago, a searing burst of violence engulfed Breakheart Hill. For one man who knows the truth about those shattering events, it is a memory that would become his awful secret.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Cook's latest suspense novel centers on a murder in a small Southern town during the early years of desegregation. (June)
Library Journal
The author of such best sellers as See Jane Run (LJ 3/15/91) has had a field day writing her heroines into dangerous situations and then pulling them to safety, bloodied but unbowed. In her latest, violence shatters the formerly comfortable world of a woman and her daughter.
School Library Journal
YA-Ben Wade, a country doctor, recounts the story of his adolescent unrequited love for Kelli Troy. Outspoken Kelli shocked most of the small town of Choctaw, Alabama, when she wrote an essay in the school paper describing the sordid history of hatred, humiliation, and slavery behind the name of nearby Breakheart Hill. Shortly after Lyle Gates, a loser with a history of violence, called Kelli a ``nigger-loving bitch,'' her badly beaten body was discovered on Breakheart Hill. Gates was convicted and sentenced despite some inconsistencies in evidence and his claim of innocence. In a shocking climax, Dr. Wade discovers the truth behind the attack when he assists Kelli's now-aged mother as she puts her affairs in order, and he must face his own culpability in the crime as well. This mystery within a coming-of-age story will be a favorite with teens who appreciate sophisticated plotting.-Susan R. Farber, Chappaqua Public Library, NY
George Needham
In the 1960s, high-school student Kelli Troy's badly beaten body was found on Breakheart Hill near Choctaw, Alabama. Troy had recently moved to Choctaw from Baltimore, a Yankee with radical ideas on race. Lyle Gates, a loser with a bad attitude and a history of domestic violence, was promptly arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime, which has haunted Choctaw's inhabitants ever since. One of those affected is Ben Wade, who had fallen passionately in love with Kelli, although she didn't return his feelings. Wade has become the town's doctor, giving him a unique perspective to see how at least a dozen lives were ravaged that violent summer afternoon. He is the only man who knows the whole story of the crime, and because of the guilty complicity that has tortured him all these years, there is no one, except the reader, he can tell. Cook has crafted a novel of stunning power, with a climax that is so unexpected the reader may think he has cheated. But there is no cheating here, only excellent storytelling.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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This is the darkest story that I have ever heard. And all my life I have labored not to tell it.

It goes with gray clouds and heavy rain, and when I remember it, I see her feet running over sodden ground. But actually the sun was full and bright the day it happened, and the kudzu vines they found tangled around her legs were thick and green at the end of a long spring growth. In fact, the vegetation had become so thick on the mountainside by then that even from a short distance it would have been hard to hear all that went on that afternoon, all that was said and done.

And yet there are times when I do hear certain things very distinctly: her body plunging through the undergrowth, birds fluttering from their nests, a frantic scurrying through the leaves and shrubs as small landbound creatures rush away, panicked by the same alarm that has disturbed the birds.

From time to time, though rarely, I actually hear her voice. It is faint, but persistent. Sometimes it comes in the form of a question: Why are you doing this to me?

Since then there have been many summers as beautiful as that one more than thirty years ago, and yet there is none I can recall as vividly. I remember the way the azaleas had flowered in a fiery brilliance, their red and white blooms like small explosions just above the ground, how delicate pink fluffs had hung from the mimosas, how even the great magnolias appeared to strain beneath their burden of unscented blooms. More than anything, I remember how the violets had overflowed every garden wall and window box, flooding the town with a torrent of purple flowers and filling the air with their powdery, sweet smell.

Manytimes during the years that have passed since then, my friend Luke Duchamp has commented on how exquisite the world seemed that afternoon. He means the flowers, of course, but there has always been an edgy tension, a sense of unanswered questions, couched within his description of that resplendent summer day.

He last mentioned it only a few days ago, and as he did so, I once again felt the truth approach me like a dark figure, grim, threatening, determined to do me harm. We'd just come from one of the many funerals that punctuate small-town life, though this one had been more significant than most, since it was Kelli's mother who had died. We had attended it together, then returned to my house to have a glass of tea, the two of us sitting on my front porch as the sun slowly lowered over the distant range of mountains.

Luke took a quick sip from the glass, then let it drift down toward his lap. He looked thoughtful, but agitated as well, his mind no doubt recalling what he'd seen so long ago. "It's still hard to believe that someone could do something like that," he said.

He meant to Kelli Troy, of course, and so I answered with my stock reply. "Yes, it is."

His eyes were fixed on the high wall of the mountain, as if clinging to it for support, and his face took on that odd stillness that always comes over it when he begins to think about it all again. "Hard to believe," he repeated after a moment.

I nodded silently, unable to add anything further, unable, despite all these many years, to relieve the burden of his doubt, offer him that truth which is said to set us free.

"An awful thing for a teenage boy to see," he added quietly.

In my mind I saw Kelli's body as Luke had seen it, lying facedown on the forest floor, her long, curly hair splayed out around her head, a single arm reaching up toward the crest of the slope. I could hear Mr. Bailey's voice ring out as he'd displayed the last photograph to the jury. This is what was done to her.

And as I recalled it all, I felt that Luke was right, that it was hard to believe that such a thing could have happened, that she could have ended up in such disarray, with her white dress soiled and her hair littered with debris, her right arm stretched out, palm down, fingers curled, as if she were still crawling desperately up the slope.

"I still can't imagine why," Luke said softly, though not exactly to himself. His eyes shot over to me. "Can you, Ben?"

His eyes were motionless as they stared at me, and I knew that I had to answer quickly in order to deflect all those other questions that have taunted him through the years, colored his view of life, darkening its atmosphere.

"Hate," I said.

It was the same answer Mr. Bailey had given so many years before, and I could easily remember the way he'd held the photograph up before the jury, his words washing over them, high and passionate, filled with his righteous anger. This is what was done to her. Only hate can do a thing like this.

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Breakheart Hill 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cook's last several books will not appeal to a number of mystery readers. But any reader looking for fine, rich writing (sometimes a bit overwritten, but not often)should enjoy Mortal Memory, Instruments of the Night and Breakheart Hill, certainly his finest book. He moves back and forth between past and present, with the past illuminating the present and the present, the past. Breakheart Hill evokes places and characters so richly, so comprehensively that a sensitive reader will start to 'feel' the pages as she reads. The complex characterization of the narrator and the girl he loves are quite simply not replicated in any other suspense novel that I have ever read (well over 700 in last 20 years). Only Void Moon comes close to equalling Breakheart.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think the other reviewer misunderstood the rating system as she only gave the book one star even though she liked it very much. This is one of my favorite books of recent years. I like it even better than his book, Chatham School Affair, which won an Edgar award the next year. The ending amazed me, but when I thumbed back through the book, I saw how he put it together and mislead the reader so well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was supposed to be a mystery/thriller and was nothing but a soap opera. Very boring stuff. I will not be reading any of his future books.