The Crime of Julian Wells


When the body of famed true-crime writer Julian Wells is found in a boat drifting on a Montauk pond, the question isn?t how he died, but why. The death looks like an obvious suicide, but why would Wells take his own life? And was this his only crime? Wells? best friend, Philip Anders, wants to know more. His first clue is an Argentinean crime, which may have been Wells? last book idea. As Anders gathers the missing parts of Wells? life, the man he knew?or thought he knew?becomes increasingly obscured, and the ...

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When the body of famed true-crime writer Julian Wells is found in a boat drifting on a Montauk pond, the question isn’t how he died, but why. The death looks like an obvious suicide, but why would Wells take his own life? And was this his only crime? Wells’ best friend, Philip Anders, wants to know more. His first clue is an Argentinean crime, which may have been Wells’ last book idea. As Anders gathers the missing parts of Wells’ life, the man he knew—or thought he knew—becomes increasingly obscured, and the ever-deepening puzzle threatens to consume him entirely.

A mystery of identity, or assumed identity, The Crime of Julian Wells spans four decades and traverses three continents. Richly plotted, brilliantly told, it’s a voyage into the depth and darkness of a man’s heart.

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Editorial Reviews

“[Cook] knows how to spin a seductive tale.”
“Reader Traber Burns’s mature voice is a perfect match for Philip, and he makes the most of the material.”
—Library Journal
From the Publisher
“Narrator Traber Burns is adept with the haunting material in this story. . . . Burns’s timing and pacing are all listeners need to feel the passions of the two main characters locked in this unfolding mystery.”

“With Traber Burns’ emotionally nuanced narration, it becomes an irresistibly engrossing audio.”

Los Angeles Times
“[Cook] knows how to spin a seductive tale.”
Publishers Weekly
The suicide of unhappy true crime writer Julian Wells propels this spellbinding thriller from Edgar-winner Cook (The Quest for Anna Klein). As literary critic Philip Anders tries to piece together his closest friend’s final days, Philip discovers that Julian may have been planning to return to Argentina, where years earlier, on a visit, the pair met a young woman, Marisol, whose subsequent disappearance haunted Julian. It’s obvious that Julian never stopped searching for Marisol, and as Philip follows his trail, he wonders how much Julian really knew and whether guilt for an unknown transgression fueled his lifelong sorrow. Cook threads the narratives of Julian’s unsettling oeuvre throughout Philip’s increasingly obsessive journey to unearth the reason behind his friend’s decision to end his life. The stories of real-life criminals—from a 17th-century Hungarian countess with a penchant for torture to notorious Soviet-era serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, the subject of Julian’s last manuscript—add to the aura of unease. (Aug.)
Library Journal
When true-crime writer Julian Wells commits suicide, his lifelong friend Philip Anders can't help but think he could have done something to stop it. Anders looks for answers in his memories and in Wells's books, which chronicle some of the worst serial killers and massacres in history. But all the clues lead to a trip that Anders and Wells took to Argentina as young men. They met a guide, Marisol, who became one of the many "disappeared" in Argentina's Dirty War. Throughout, Philip has to confront the fact that he didn't really know Julian and begins to question whether he ever knew anyone at all. Cook (The Quest for Anna Klein) has a graceful writing style, with philosophical asides and allusions to classic literature, and Anders is a decent, though naive, companion on this journey. VERDICT For mystery lovers who enjoy the trail of clues, even when there isn't a huge mystery. Most readers won't be surprised by the denouement, but Cook's thoughtful writing is the real payoff here. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/12.]—Devon Thomas, DevIndexing, Chelsea, MI
Library Journal - Audio
"There is no more haunting a story than that of an unsolved crime," declares protagonist Philip Anders as he unravels the mystery behind his lifelong friend Julian Wells. Unfortunately, the crime may haunt those two, but not so much the listener. Following Julian's suicide, Philip embarks on a quest to learn what prompted his friend to row a boat to the middle of a pond and slash both wrists. The investigation takes Philip to France, England, Buenos Aires, and beyond, but he unearths the answer in his own New York City apartment through his elderly father. Cook relates the horrors of foreign politics, in which there are no rules and your best friend will sacrifice you to save himself. Ultimately, this is a story of those with and those without a conscience. Reader Traber Burns's mature voice is a perfect match for Philip, and he makes the most of the material. VERDICT Those who like mysteries steeped more in human nature than twists and turns will enjoy the fine writing here, while fans seeking action will be bored. Buy where Cook is popular. ["Most readers won't be surprised by the denouement, but Cook's thoughtful writing is the real payoff here," read the review of the Mysterious Pr: Grove/Atlantic hc, LJ 7/12.—Ed.]—Mike Rogers, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Cook's 27th dip into his fictional characters' troubled past asks why an expatriate writer took his own life. Before he rowed out to the middle of a pond and slit his wrists, Julian Wells' most notable legacy was his shelf of meticulously researched true-crime studies of notorious serial killers. His death, however, creates a more poignant legacy for his sister Loretta, a failed actress and copy editor, and his old friend Philip Anders, a reviewer whose father, like Julian's, was a State Department functionary. Why would Julian have chosen to kill himself during a particularly quiet period of a largely uneventful life? Taking his cue from the dedication of Julian's first book--"For Philip, sole witness to my crime"--Philip retraces his friend's steps over three continents and 40 years, focusing at length on a trip the two of them took to Argentina, a rare journey that was not designed to produce background material for one of Julian's books. He recalls their friendship with Marisol Menendez, a guide to Buenos Aires who vanished into the deep shadows of the Casa Rosada during the dirty little war of the 1980s. As he interviews an activist priest, a Casa Rosada contact of his father's, and a Russian agent who earned the sobriquet the Rostov Ripper, Philip can feel himself getting closer to one of those grimly climactic epiphanies so characteristic of Cook (The Quest for Anna Klein, 2011, etc.). This time, however, the big reveal seems neither inevitable nor weighty enough to justify the weight of the portentous buildup. This sprawling update of Eric Ambler's A Coffin for Dimitrios lacks the baleful focus of its model, or of the most successful of Cook's own nightmare excavations of the past. Wait till next year.
The Barnes & Noble Review

The mystery at the heart of Thomas H. Cook's The Crime of Julian Wells emerges like the image on a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces the author dispenses, one by one, until the pattern emerges, complete and inevitable. In this elegant thriller, there are no sudden moves. Action is born of stillness and reflection while the crimes of the past, reluctantly exposed, bleed gradually but inexorably into the present.

"When the best man you'd ever known, the one you'd loved the most?trudges to a pond, climbs into a boat, rows a hundred feet out into the water, rolls up his sleeves, and cuts his wrists, are you not called upon to ask what you might have said to him in that boat, how you might have saved him?"

The dead man is Julian Wells, an American who wrote about the crimes of various mass murderers, recent and historic, from the viewpoint of their victims. The narrator is Philip Anders, a solitary academic, who is determined to find out why his lifelong friend committed suicide and now wonders what Julian meant when he dedicated his first book to "Philip, sole witness to my crime." Compelled to excavate Julian's past, Philip is drawn back to the time the two men spent together in Argentina toward the end of that country's Dirty War. Given the destination, it seems inevitable that a novel whose languid tone first echoes that of Brideshead Revisited (Julian and Philip being golden boys of a privileged class) will finally become an Argentine Heart of Darkness. The course toward horror is indeed set, and Cook, a nimble writer who can be lyrical one moment and brutal the next, navigates that course brilliantly.

Philip's chief confidant is his elderly father, an ex- State Department bureaucrat who advised and inspired Julian. Like his deceased acolyte, the old man seems haunted. He is also evasive when gently interrogated about Julian's motivations, pronouncing, "Darkness was the only thing he knew." Philip rejects this conclusion, but as he retraces Julian's steps in Europe, Russia, and Argentina he enters "a thicket of intrigue in which identities changed as well as motives." At its center is Marisol, the woman who was Julian and Philip's tour guide in Buenos Aires; the woman whose subsequent disappearance became Julian's — and is now Philip's — obsession.

Marisol was the personification of innocence. But Julian, on the day he died, told his sister that in the jungles of Argentina he had learned that "Goodness is evil's best disguise," and soon Philip is forced to question the solidity both of his political assumptions and of his lifelong affections. "Grow up, please," a retired U.S. intelligence officer tells him, and middle- aged Philip eventually does. Forced to confront barbarism, face to face, in the jungle, he returns home to a shabby truth: "It's always the little people, too small for us to see, the little, dusty people, who pay for our mistakes."

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781611747454
  • Publisher: HighBridge Company
  • Publication date: 8/14/2012
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged; 7.5 hours
  • Pages: 450
  • Product dimensions: 5.13 (w) x 5.94 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

TRABER BURNS is a native of Louisiana, who began his acting career as a graduate of the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco.  He spent 30 years working in regional theatre, including the New York, Oregon, Alabama and Dallas Shakespeare Festivals.  After 5 years of acting in Los Angeles, he now lives in Oregon where he spends most of his time transporting his son to various activities.

THOMAS H. COOK held several jobs as teacher and book reviewer before he began writing full-time. Many of his novels have been nominated for the Edgar and other prestigious awards. He won the Edgar for The Chatham School Affair.

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