Cover image for Instruments of night
Instruments of night
Cook, Thomas H.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Bantam Books, 1998.
Physical Description:
293 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

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On a humid summer evening in 1963, following a hard day's work in the field, twelve-year-old Paul Graves came home to a nightmare. Snatched by a stranger, strapped to a chair in a sweltering farmhouse, he watched in horror as the man orchestrated the slow, deliberate, night-long brutalization and murder of his older sister.... Now, more than thirty years later, Graves is a marginally successful writer who has lost himself in the anonymity of Manhattan and in the mind-numbing world of his crime fiction. But still held captive by his memories, still haunted by this sister's agonized whispers, he writes chilling tales of cruelty and sadism, of evil triumphing over good. Stories so convincing, they have earned him an invitation to the Riverwood Estate. But not to practice his craft as a writer. Alison Davies, who runs the retreat, is convinced he's the one man capable of bringing closure to the mystery that has haunted her own family, asking him to investigate the fifty-year-old unsolved murder of 16-year-old Faye Harrision, Alison's best friend, who was tortured, strangled, and left to molder in the dark confines of a cave. Graves, more than anyone, knows where to look for the truth, where the instruments of night are brought to bear: In the deep basements, the dark caves, the lonely farmhouses where cowardice bows before corruption, where love cannot withstand the intimidation and pain. Compelled to peer into the chaos of twisted motives and tainted passions, he will confront the ultimate atrocity. Not about who killed Faye Harrison, or who killed his sister. Not about what he has witnessed and could never reveal. But about what he is capable of...and what he has done.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

This is an excellent psychological thriller in which the subplot is almost more interesting than the central story. Paul Graves, the author of a popular series of thrillers, is hired to write about an unsolved murder that took place half a century ago in the small town of Riverwood. And the crime--a young girl was tortured and killed--bears a frightening resemblance to an incident from Paul's own past. Paul's investigation of the crime is interesting, but it is not as compelling as his distillation of his own memories. Readers may find themselves wanting to skim through the central story to find out what happens next in Paul's painful battle with his personal demons. But that would be a mistake: Paul's trip into Riverwood's history becomes, as the line between reality and memory blurs, as gripping as his search for answers about his own past. Fans of psychological thrillers--and especially fans of this Edgar Award^-winning author--will flock to this title. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

Cook's previous novel, The Chatham School Affair (1996), won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. His latest is every bit its equal, a beautifully composed tale with enough plot twists to satisfy even fans who have learned to expect surprises from this talented author. Protagonist Paul Graves is a writer of dark, violent crime novels that feature a sadistic killer, Kessler, his cringing assistant, Sykes, and Slovak, the detective who doggedly pursues these master criminals. Graves sets his stories in turn-of-the-century New York‘far enough back in time that he can safely distance himself from the grisly crimes he conjures. But he can't distance himself from the horror that he still feels at the murder of his own sister, committed when he was a child. As the novel begins, Graves is asked to investigate a real murder by Allison Davies, who runs a writer's colony at Riverwood, her family estate in the Hudson River Valley. In 1946, a young girl, Faye Harrison, was murdered there, and the crime has never been solved. The victim's aged mother would like some closure before she dies. Graves agrees to look into the crime in order to keep his own personal demons at bay for a while longer. Cook employs many of the typical conventions of the genre, even resorting to the classic device of timetables. His complex plot is anything but dated, however. He excels in devising harrowing situations that eerily echo Graves's personal tragedy, ultimately delivering another indelibly haunting tale that once again demonstrates that he is among the best in the business. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Paul Graves, a writer of dark, historical mysteries, is hired to research the 50-year-old murder of an innocent girl and write a story that might explain it. His own tortured past as childhood witness to his sister's murder colors his every thought and action. Using shifting points of view, Paul presents his investigation as a series of leads that turn false, forcing him to revise his view of the case. In a multiple-twist ending, he and his fictional character seem to merge, even as a female acquaintance appears destined to become a character in a future story. Cook has previously used the premise of a troubled narrator looking back at a tragedy that has shaped many lives, most recently in Breakheart Hill (LJ 7/95) and the Edgar Award-winning The Chatham School Affair (LJ 7/96). Here, his Gothic, even melodramatic, prose style emphasizes mood and setting but will often seem repetitious and jarring to contemporary readers. This may appeal to mystery fans wanting something closer to Poe than to Chandler; those wanting more action than angst should pass. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/98.]ÄRoland C. Person, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Looking out over the city, imagining its once-coal-blackened spires, he knew that he did it to keep his distance, that he set his books back in time because it was only in that vanished place, where the smell of ginger nuts hung in the air and horse-drawn water wagons sprayed the cobblestone streets, that he felt truly safe. It was nearly dawn, and from the narrow terrace of his apartment, Graves could see a faint light building in the east. He'd been up all night, typing furiously, following Detective Slovak through the spectral back streets of gaslight New York, the two of them--hero and creator--relentlessly pursuing Kessler from one seedy haunt to the next, the groggeries of Five Points, the whorehouses of the Tenderloin, its boy bars and child brothels, watching as Kessler's black coat slipped around a jagged brick corner or disappeared into a thick, concealing bank of nineteenth-century fog. Together, they'd questioned bill stickers and news hawkers and a noisy gaggle of hot-corn girls. They'd dodged rubberneck buses and hansom cabs and crouched in the steamy darkness of the Black Maria. For a time they'd even lingered with a "model artist" who'd just come from posing nude for a roomful of gawking strangers, Slovak mournfully aware of the woman's fate, his dark eyes watching silently as her youth and beauty dripped away, her life a melting candle. They'd finally ended up on the rooftop of a five-story tenement near the river. Slovak teetered at the brink of it as he searched the empty fire escape, the deserted street below, amazed that Kessler had done it again, disappeared without a trace. It was as if he'd found some slit in the air, slipped through it into a world behind this world, where he reveled in the terror he created. Graves glanced back into his apartment. The chaos that had accumulated during the night was spread throughout the room, small white cartons of Chinese food, dirty cups and glasses, a desk strewn with papers, his ancient manual typewriter resting heavily at the eye of it all. Compared to the sleek computer screens and ergonomic keyboards most other writers now used, the typewriter looked like a perverse relic of the Inquisition, a mechanical thumbscrew or some other infinitely refined instrument of medieval torture. Once, at an exhibition of such artifacts, Graves had seen a dagger made in the form of a crucifix, its handle cut in the shape of Christ's body to provide a better grip. Years later he'd written a scene in which Kessler had pressed an identical weapon into Sykes' trembling hand, forced him to draw it slowly across the sagging folds of an old woman's throat. Sykes. Kessler's cowering sidekick. The shivering, panicked instrument of Kessler's will. Graves took a sip of coffee and let his eyes drift out over the East River, the bridges that spanned its gray waters, cars moving back and forth on them like ants along a narrow twig. Within an hour traffic would become an unbroken stream, the noise of the city steadily increasing down below, so that even from his high aerie, perched like an eagle's nest on the fortieth floor, he'd have to close the windows to keep it out. It was nearly five hours before he had to catch a bus upstate, to the Riverwood Colony, where he'd been invited to spend the weekend. He'd need to get a little rest before then, since his mind was too easily alarmed by changing scenes, distant voices, unfamiliar smells for him ever to sleep in transit. Instead, he'd stare out the bus window, alert and edgy, as towns and villages flashed by, inventing tales as he went along. Passing an empty field, he might suddenly envision the moldering bones of some once-desperate girl, a runaway who'd knocked at the wrong door a hundred years before, young and vulnerable, pale and hungry, wrapped in a threadbare woolen shawl, snowflakes clinging to her lustrous hair, her small, childlike voice barely audible above the howl of the wind: I'm so sorry to disturb you, sir, but might I warm myself beside your fire? He could see the man beyond the door, imagine what he imagined, her quivering white breasts, the cold-stiffened nipples, feel his fingers probing the latch as he drew back to let her in, his voice, sweet, unthreatening, Of course, my dear, come in. It was always the isolated farmhouses that called up the most dreadful scenes. Graves knew firsthand the horror that could befall them, how vulnerable they were to sudden violence and death. Once, edging close to the forbidden, he'd actually described a young woman's murder in such a place, Kessler, the arch villain in all of Graves' books, directing Sykes through the brutal ritual while Slovak, Graves' tireless hero, knowing where Kessler was, what he was doing, and desperate to stop him, had pounded up the flickering, smoke-filled aisles of a stranded snowbound train, panting heavily by the time he'd finally reached the engine. But once there, he'd found the engineer too terrified by the storm to press onward, so that once again Kessler had escaped due to some unexpected cowardice, fear the servant upon which evil could most confidently rely. It was a circumstance often repeated in Graves' books, one of his abiding themes. Graves drew in a breath and felt a wave of exhaustion settle over him. He knew where the weariness had come from and why it was so heavy. He and Slovak had just trudged up five flights of stairs, slammed through a thick wooden door, and raced across a wide black roof, arriving breathless and exhausted at its edge. Now, looking out over the city, it seemed strange to Graves that within an instant he had transported himself to this quiet terrace where he stood, calmly sipping tepid coffee in the early morning light while in the world of his creation, Slovak remained on the other side of town, thirty blocks away in space and more than a century distant in time, staring out over the same enigmatic web of streets and rooftops as Kessler crept up from the rear, grinning as he drew the little silver derringer from beneath his coat, good and evil about to face each other squarely in the dawning light. Excerpted from Instruments of Night by Thomas H. Cook All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.