Thomas H. Cook’s The Last Talk with Lola Faye was submitted for a 2011 Edgar but not on the shortlist. Cook won the Best Novel award in 1996, with The Chatham School Affair, and the two books have some things in common, notably the lifelong effect of childhood trauma.
The Lola Faye in question is a woman with whom protagonist Lucas Page’s shopkeeper father had an affair – or so he long believed – during Lucas’ teenage years. Lucas had escaped his grim, small-town future through superior academic ability, and has become an historian with some popularity as an author.
This popularity is on the wane, however, and he is flattered at a book-signing when a woman comes forward for his autograph… and much to his surprise, it’s Lola Faye. She has not prospered in the intervening years. They go to a nearby restaurant for a meal and a “last talk.”
During their discussion, Lucas slowly begins to realize that his perspective on his family, their relationships, and even their actions are all suspect. Did his father truly have an affair, or was his hard-working father sadly, thoroughly in love with his own ailing wife? Did he help himself to the money set aside for Lucas’ education and give it to his lover, as Lucas long assumed? Or was there another reason for the shortfall? And when Lucas’ father was shot by Lola Faye’s husband, did he die right away? Or did Lucas’ mother delay calling the police in order to give him time to die, in order to obtain the life insurance that would secure her beloved son’s education?
Cook keeps the suspense taut and moves the plot along with well-timed revelations. Lola Faye’s motivation for seeking Lucas out is a little murky throughout: she seems a bit like a cat among the pigeons, doling out information in dribs and drabs and dropping little hints that leads Lucas to reconsider his long-held beliefs. Her motivation becomes clear by the end of the novel. In fact, this is the one aspect of The Last Talk with Lola Faye that I found less than compelling – that Lucas and his wife moved back to Glenville to take care of Lola Faye during her final illness.
Lola Faye worth reading? Absolutely! Am I surprised its not a nominee for an Edgar? Not really. But Thomas Cook is an extremely able author and his backlist – as well as this book, his most recent – are well worth exploring.