REVIEW: Tragic Shores: A Memoir of Dark Travel by Thomas H. Cook

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Read this book for: travel writing, memoir, non-fiction, hauntingly beautiful prose, chilling events, terrible historical events

Quick Review: A beautifully written and poignant memoir that will make you want to pack your bags and visit, Cook uses the sites of some of the darkest chapters of human history to shed light on the good parts of humanity.


Thomas Cook has always been drawn to dark places, for the powerful emotions they evoke and for what we can learn from them. These lessons are often unexpected and sometimes profoundly intimate, but they are never straightforward. With his wife and daughter, Cook travels across the globe in search of darkness – from Lourdes to Ghana, from San Francisco to Verdun, from the monumental, mechanised horror of Auschwitz to the intimate personal grief of a shrine to dead infants in Kamukura, Japan. Along the way he reflects on what these sites may teach us, not only about human history, but about our own personal histories. During the course of a lifetime of traveling to some of earth’s most tragic shores, from the leper colony on Molokai to ground zero at Hiroshima, he finds not darkness alone, but a light that can illuminate the darkness within each of us.

TRAGIC SHORES: A MEMOIR OF DARK TRAVEL is award-winning mystery writer Thomas H. Cook’s first non-fiction book. You may wonder what a non-fiction travel book is doing on a crime blog, but this book perfectly encapsulates what many people are looking for when they read crime fiction: a reminder of the darkness of the world and what it can teach us about the good in life.

Cook uses this book to recount his visits to some of the sites of terrible atrocities and loss. This sounds potentially very depressing, but it’s actually strangely uplifting, as he ends each snapshot with his insight on what these sites and the events attached to them can teach us about the goodness in humanity, or personal insights on what light they can shed on our own lives, as they did on his.

There are definite moments of deep sadness, horror and tragedy, but Cook does not revel in the gory details or historical facts of these places. While he adds just enough detail to whet your appetite to find out more about the particular events that took place, and give you a sense of the scale of the darkness, the majority of his beautiful prose is devoted to painting the physical space vividly, and his philosophical insights on the meaning of these places.

The crime element is still there, but muted against Cook’s atmospheric writing. TRAGIC SHORES will definitely awaken your curiosity and wanderlust.

Despite not being a fictional crime novel, I have to recommend picking up TRAGIC SHORES. It’s beautiful, poignant and almost impossible to put down, and will make you want to pack your bags and hop on a plane to find out how these dark places speak to you.

One thought on “REVIEW: Tragic Shores: A Memoir of Dark Travel by Thomas H. Cook

  1. This is a beautifully written account of one man’s search for meaning in the apparently randon acts of others; each chapter ends with – often poignant and deeply touching – reflections on the insights which the chapter’s subject has evoked. It’s powerful, moving and hard to put down.


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