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Master of the Delta

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  585 Ratings  ·  120 Reviews
In 1954 Mississippi, Jack Branch returns to his father’s Delta estate, Great Oaks, to perform an act of noblesse oblige: teaching at the local high school. Conducting a class on historical evil, Jack is shocked to discover that his unassuming student Eddie is the son of the Coed Killer, a notorious local murderer. Jack feels compelled to mentor the boy, encouraging Eddie t ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published June 8th 2009 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 2008)
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Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My third read by Thomas H. Cook and wow, what a terrific book. Just a genuinely great novel from the first sentence to the last, this one really showcases the talent the author has for words, crafting them just so to express the deepest desires and the most secret of thoughts in such a way that the reader is taken into the mind of the characters. Escapist literature of a sort, I suppose. The title originally put me in mind of something military, which I was glad to know wasn't the case at all, D ...more
Jun 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having read the book a while back, I sort of knew what to expect, but I managed to forget enough key plot points in almost two years to make this experience almost fresh. I've gone back to reread my review of the original and all I said still stands. This is a really excellent book, exceptionally well written with terrific erudition and great humanity. The audio book reader did a thoroughly competent job bringing to life the Mississippi of 1950s via its well intentioned yet conflicted narrator. ...more
Oct 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-keep-forever, 2011
Wow. I just read the final page, and I must say, this book was extraordinarily good!! This one is a keeper; I can't keep them all, because space just won't allow for that, but I do like to hang onto some of my favorites that I might like to reread again some day.

I don't remember how I discovered this author, but he has become a top favorite of mine. Master of the Delta is the third (and, by far, the best!) of his that I've read, following Red Leaves and Into the Web. And luckily, I have nine mor
Nov 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh....this book was really great until the greatness wore off, and the ending came. Even after I rationalized all the reasons why he would've done what he did...I was still unsatisfied. See my lovely bones review for my opinion on this type of book, but regardless, I couldn't put it down the whole time, and I think his theme of evil and what makes a person so was interesting, but the book is loaded with story lines that never seem complete and ambiguous references to things that in the end don' ...more
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourite-books
I always say Thomas H. Cook is a mystery writer and he is…but I think he is also so much more than that. Master of the Delta is my 8th outing with Cook and it didn’t disappoint, even though some of the themes were familiar. The novel has the propulsive energy of a mystery, a book with a thread of whodunit twined with a ribbon of ‘is this going to end like I think it’s going to end?’ And of course – nothing is ever quite what it seems. But Cook operates on another level and this is where I think ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My second Cook book with lots of food for thought (excuse the play on words:), totally different, but delivered in his same crisp prose. As mentioned on page 12, "...on the way to failure at something great, one often succeeds at something good," works well for the plot, if not necessarily for the outcome:( I've quickly become a fan of Mr. Thomas H. Cook.
Ben Babcock
The flashback is the weakest of all foreshadowing, and it is the device that ruined this book for me. It's a shame too, because Thomas H. Cook uses other foreshadowing as well--hints about the deadliest sin being pride, allusions to the consequences similar characters faced in great literary works. The flashbacks were confusing at best and disruptive to the pace of the story at worst. I don't mind so much if the entire story is a flashback set within a frame story, or if there are flashbacks to ...more
May 27, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
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Feb 13, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Trust the tale, not the teller. Jack Branch would have a reader believe he is a great son, teacher, mentor, lover, friend. Certainly every story he tells is intended to convince a reader of this; however, it just ain't so. The truth is much simpler.. Jack is a terrible teacher (what a bore with all those lecures), a dutiful if dimwitted son (his father really would like to go into that nursing home), a rotten mentor, and an out and out liar. Jack tells his story in a coy manner meant to suggest ...more
Denise Dougherty
Admittedly, I've not read Cooke for some time. This book, for the most part, I found filled with overblown prose and supercilious narrator. But then, that could well be what Thomas H. Cook was weaving in his story. I listened through to the end and the last disk had much garbling that ruined the ending - so much so that I'll need to find the book and read what I missed. However, there were parts at the end of the story that felt familiar to me - the favored stranger - when Cook talked about the ...more
Priscilla McFerren
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathleen Hagen
Master of the Delta, by Thomas H. Cook, a-minus, Narrated by T. Ryder Smith, Produced by Recorded Books, downloaded from

Jack Branch, the son of one of the upper class families, comes home to Mississippi to teach highschool, just as his father did before him. He teaches a class in which he proposes various ideas about what constitutes evil, based mostly on literature, and the class must discuss it, plus write a paper. He learns early on that one of the students in his class, who seem
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another powerful novel from Mr. Cook that is yet another shining example of a beautiful blend of crime and literature. Once again, Cook's story is told in hindsight of events that took place a long time ago. Briskly paced, the complete tale emerges in flashes as the author peels away the layers and the final picture is brought in complete focus at the very end of the book. Although, the main plot is not as powerful as some of his other novels, but Cook's prose is sparkling, as usual; his lush an ...more
Mar 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomas Cook's books always has a minimum of 2 plots going at the same time. So he certainly is never a 'beach read' kinda author. Both plots hold a lot of similarities and to help one understand one of the plots it has always happened in the 'past' - which means he does a lot of 'remembering'. The story-line presently being worked on reminds him of something in the past and so we, the reader, is sent back to that point in time. This can be extremely confusing if you are not tuned to this type o ...more
The more books you read by one author, the easier it is to pick up on reoccuring themes and characters. Cook is definitely one of those who uses similar concepts in his works, but I can still enjoy them.

In this one — like so many of his book — there's a troubled, misunderstood young man who is in need of either help or guidance (sometimes both). And, as usual, the main themes are psychology, interaction between characters, and the flawed nature of human beings. Cook is very good at describing ho
Amy Dix
I read this in one day, on a long car ride. It was hard to put down (even when it got dark and I had to read by cell-phone light!). I liked: the depiction of the delta, the character of Nora Ellis, and ideas about family obligation, deceptions, and secrets. I didn't like: the somewhat overblown prose ("Her astonishingly light blue eyes shone in the afternoon light" astonishingly light or astonishingly blue? I hate myself for even bringing this up. There are better examples.), the unanswered ques ...more
Masterful writer, and this novel excels in his ability as a wordsmith. Subtle and sublime nuance in nearly every interaction of the characters with minute detail of all the feelings of a young man and his relevant self-identity in some context to that moment's nuance.

It's prose that is close to poetry at points. And the location feel of placement is nearly perfect.

But saying all that this is the least favorite of all the Cook books I have read so far.

Mainly, I think, it was the subject matter a
If you love the telling of a story as much as the content, you cannot read this book soon enough. I read this because I saw one of my all-time favorite mystery writers, the incomparable Lyndsay Faye rated this five out of five stars, and I was not disappointed.

It's a study of a southern town, and fate, and a singular teacher/student relationship, and the things that come to people out of choice and out of the past from events far outside their control. It's also a cracking good mystery, and I
Aric Mitchell
Thomas Cook is a fantastic writer, but Master of the Delta is a good example of what happens when a writer makes you wish bad things will happen to his characters. Characters don't have to be noble people you instantly fall in love with. They can be jerks and still make you sympathetic. Problem here is that I actually wanted bad things to happen, I hated them so much, and the promise of that payoff was the only thing that kept me reading. From Dirk, a troublemaking teenage scumbag, to the narrat ...more
Joanna Cabot
Feb 01, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, suspense
This was a deeply intriguing and well-written suspense novel. A teacher in the American South of the 1950s is teaching a class on evil, and assigns a paper to his students to choose an 'evil' person and write about them. One of his students chooses, with his guidance, to write a paper on his own father, notorious for the long-ago murder of a local coed. Things go awry from there...

Jack is a well-drawn if somewhat pompous character, and Cook is a little heavy-handed with the foreshadowing. A port
Oct 15, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: mysteries, fiction
It's 1954 in Mississippi, and our protagonist is teaching a specialty class at the local high school. The subject is the history of evil, so when Jack discovers that one of his students is the son of the locally notorious and now deceased Coed Killer, he feels fate dictates he should mentor the boy. He encourages the boy to do a research paper about his father's crimes, but the research takes them both to places they might have preferred not to go.

The book is written after something big has happ
May 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I dont think anyone tells a story better than Cook. He is to the mystery genre what George R.R Martin is to the fantasy genre. In other words, something new or a breath of fresh air. Cook writes a great story that has a mystery aspect instead like every other author who strictly just writes a clue-by-clue mystery book. His prose is levels above all other authors I have read, character development in this one is top notch as usual and the story sticks with you. Not going to repeat the synopsis or ...more
Helen Katz
Mar 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I picked this off my shelf - must have bought it at a 2nd hand book shop. I don't remember. What a fantastic surprise. What a different and totally intriguing story. Beautifully written. Sometimes I would re-read a passage because of the artistry of Cook's writing - his imagery - particularly in relation to his theme of evil. I so enjoyed the structure of this novel too. The way he moved from past to present and to the courtroom dialogue so smoothly. I'm now very eager to read more of his work - ...more
Aug 09, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime-fiction
While the suspense builds in this modern gothic tale of the south, there was something missing that left this reader wanting at the end of the tale. It is an attractive narrative of a native returning to his home town to teach literature. He tries to mentor a young boy and in doing so help the boy delve into the past crime of his father. The novel then hangs on the consequences of this decision and the twists and turns, while somewhat dark and certainly unexpected, did not impress me. The discov ...more
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oooooo--I loved this adult mystery!! I even had to go back and re-read portions of it to see where I was misled. That's my sign of a great book![return][return]Jack Branch is a teacher at the local high school, just like his father. Except his dad suffers from depression which led to the "incident" (otherwise known as shooting himself in the head). Now the dad stays in his ailing plantation home and writes a biography of Lincoln. Jack is an interesting teacher--his favorite class is on evil in h ...more
I was so happy to learn that Thomas Cook's new mystery is every bit as good as his The Chatham School Affair (1996) which won an Edgar award several years ago. This story begins as what you'd think is a typical murder story. A teenager, encouraged by his caring and supportive English teacher, begins to investigate the circumstances of his father's incarceration and subsequent death at the hands of a prison inmate ten years before. His teacher tells the story in flashbacks, examining his own rela ...more
Satisfying psychological thriller from Thomas Cook exploring the nature of evil in a small southern town in the 1950's including its social and racial "norms".

Many natives still spend their entire lives there; the past is an ever present character especially the antebellum era and the Civil War.
People are expected to live and die in a sort of "caste" system. When a student decides to write about his family's past as part of a school assignment, he discovers talent above his station and a number
Oct 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In my desperation for a good read, I reverted to an old childhood habit and pulled a book at random from the library shelves. Like one panning for gold, I unexpectedly had found the mother lode. Thomas Cook is a talented writer who weaves an intense and thought provoking tale of evil, blood lines and life's paths that are shaped by circumstance of birth. The story is set in a small town southern high school of the 50's, but Cook skillfully weaves a tapestry of events that span generations. It is ...more
Apr 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This one had me from the beginning! I have to admit that I really needed a dictionary for the vocabulary. While I don't believe that a teacher could ever get permission to teach a class on "Evil", it certainly added to the mood and intensity of the book. This one will haunt me for a long time, and I am almost relieved to have it done, because it was pretty consuming, in a creepy sort of way. Anyway, I will definitely read another of his, but not for awhile. It gave me some food for thought.
Freyja Vanadis
I liked it, except for two things: the ending was a bit muddled and far-fetched, and I hated the way the narrator constantly said "my father". My father this, my father that, I'm going to my father's house to have dinner with my father because my father's getting old and my father needs help. I know it's petty of me, but no one constantly refers to their dad as "my father". Only once did he use the word "Dad", and that was on page 196. If it wasn't for that, I'd have given this book either 4 or ...more
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There is more than one author with this name on Goodreads.

Thomas H. Cook has been praised by critics for his attention to psychology and the lyrical nature of his prose. He is the author of more than 30 critically-acclaimed fiction books, including works of true crime. Cook published his first novel, Blood Innocents, in 1980. Cook published steadily through the 1980s, penning such works as the Fra
More about Thomas H. Cook...
“He looked at me intently, from what seemed behind the veil of a grave experience. Then slowly and prophetically, he said the scariest thing I'd ever heard: "Because the answer to a heartfelt question, Jack, will always break your heart.” 75 likes
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