[I'd already registered and released a copy of this book, but wanted to register my keeper-copy, a rather battered '65 preview-edition trade paperback, as well.]
Sinister, savory, unique... "The Cook" is a very odd book indeed, long out of print and seldom heard of, but it's a masterful tale of suspense and cookery (not necessarily in that order). I first read it when I was in school - Dad had found a copy of it somewhere (a proof copy, too - no idea where it came from, just showed up on his end table one night) and of course I read anything that was in the house, so... I loved the thing, which was weird beyond most of my then-current reading, but the family copy disappeared at some point [probably when the folks were packing to move] and it took a while before I found another copy. It was just as intriguing the next time I read it...
Tall, thin Conrad arrives in town one day, seeking a position as chef in the home of a wealthy (and massively dysfunctional) local family. His culinary skills are tested and prove triumphant - magnificently so, pleasing everyone in the household. But Conrad's dishes don't just satisfy the palate, they create a certain dependency... and while the members of the family seem to be changing for the better due to Conrad's subtle influence, are the changes in their interests or in Conrad's?
The book is full of unexpected scenes, some funny, some bizarre, some profoundly disturbing. [I won't attempt to categorize the knife fight between Conrad and a rival cook in the town pub, but it's wonderful.] Is Conrad a devil incarnate or simply a master chef and psychologist? And what would you give for the most perfect meals that have ever been?
OK, enough - it's a great book, if you like 'em disturbing. There's a bit of a mystery about the author, too; the advance-copy that I have says that "Harry Kressing" is a pseudonym, but I've seen at least three different names given as the true author. On the Usenet, a research librarian claimed to have turned up "Hartmut Kress" in a database somewhere; another source says Kressing is really Harry Adam Ruber. Various booksellers that list the book include "sometimes attributed to Nicholas Freeling," and this one actually seems possible - Freeling wrote a number of mysteries (haven't read any so I can't compare the style) and I believe he was also a chef, or at least knew great cooking. But I have no idea which, if any, is the author's real identity.
[A while back, I discovered that the film Something for Everyone was loosely based on this novel - though from the plot summary it appears that the "cook" aspect may have been dropped almost entirely. The film sounds interesting anyway, so I thought I'd add it to the book's history.]