The Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook

Henry Griswald is the narrator of this tragic story he relates what happened seven decades earlier, when in 1926, he was a teenager, son of the headmaster of the Chatham School. That is the year, Elizabeth Channing arrived in town, a young, beautiful art teacher who has traveled the world.  That is the year his small town witnessed passion and death, saw a young woman destroyed and eventually accused of murder. Only Henry holds the key to what truly happened those years ago and it takes the whole book to learn all of the secrets.

We left a few minutes later, and I didn’t say a single word to Miss Channing that morning, but only gazed at her stonily, my demeanor already forming into the hard shell it would assume on the day I testified against her, answering every question with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, knowing all the while that there was one question Mr. Parsons would never ask me, nor even remotely suspect that I had the answer to: What really happened on Black Pond that day? (pg. 264)

I read this in more or less one sitting on Saturday; it totally engrossed me. Henry tells us the story in bits and pieces, memories from that time, interspersed with scenes from the trial and happenings in his current life, letting us know that something devastating will happen, but leaving us unsure of exactly what it will be.

The writing is lyrical but with a dark tinge that lets us know that, despite the happy moment, tragedy is around the bend. I got so caught up in the characters’ lives, loves, need wants. Each of them, Henry, Mr. Reed, a teacher at the school, Miss Channing, even Sarah who works for the Griswalds, longs for something just beyond their reach, for freedom, for love, for knowledge. By the time the whole story was revealed I had tears streaming down my face.

I don’t know that this a book for everyone. It is melodramatic, slightly old-fashioned which I loved. It’s rather slow-paced and is really a disturbing read, but without gore or violence. I have to say, though, this has been one of my favorite reads so far this year.

First published in October 1, 1996
Edgar Award for Best Novel 1997
292 pages

Challenges: 100+, Thriller & Suspense

I borrowed my copy from the library and the above is my honest opinion. I am an Amazon associate.


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