Only the Trying opens with the assassination of a man swimming from The Cove to The Shores.
It was while on a surfing trip to La Jolla five years ago that the novel’s plot took shape in the mind of Alex Cook, a 58-year-old adventurer who splits his time between Baja, Indonesia and the Columbia River Gorge.
“I thought La Jolla Canyon might be an interesting way to sneak up on somebody and bury your murder weapon,” said Cook, referencing the 500-foot plunge taken by the ocean bottom off La Jolla Shores (which is why whales can often be spotted so close to shore there).
Rarely will you read about self-published books in the Light. The exception was made this time because Cook is just as intriguing as one of his characters.
An institutional trader on Wall Street for the Salomon Brothers investment bank in the go-go ’80s, Cook went on to manage a fund for Fortress Investment Group — presiding over hundreds of investments worth billions of dollars — before deciding to leave that life behind in 2015.
“All I wanted as a young man was to live at the beach,” he said. “Through a series of unlikely events, I ended up on Wall Street. But every time I tried to leave, I got offered more money and increasing amounts of responsibility — the proverbial golden handcuffs.”
Now, Cook and his wife own a surf lodge in Indonesia, and a schedule filled mostly by appointments to surf, to kitesurf and to write.
“I’ve lived a bit of a crazy but charmed life,” he said.
Cook said he set a third of Only the Trying in La Jolla because of the personal connection he feels with our town. He competed in triathlons and scuba-trained here while attending college in L.A. And his wife, Leslie Collins, happens to be a La Jolla native and second-generation Bishop’s School alum.
“Well, most obviously, La Jolla is one of the most beautiful places on the planet,” Cook said. “But I’m also interested in what lurks below the surface of a beautiful façade. When humans are involved, the fragile, delicate balance between bored and stressed is often lost, leading to a dark underbelly of deviant behavior.”
The follow-up to Cook’s debut novel, Donuts are Meant to be Eaten, Only the Trying tells the continuing story of three brothers, the oldest of whom has descended a slippery path from soldier to mercenary to assassin.
“But it’s more than just a Tom Clancy sort of thriller about a guy running around killing people,” Cook said. “It explores mental-health issues, infidelity, addiction and other problems that may confront people with too much money and leisure time.”
Cook said all proceeds will be donated to the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal organization that works to exonerate the wrongly convicted.
“I had a college football teammate, Tony Robinson, who was convicted of a rape he didn’t commit,” Cook said. “And he spent 10 years in prison until exonerated by DNA evidence.
“I can’t change what has happened, but maybe I can help someone else in a similar predicament.”
Only the Trying is available on Amazon and Apple Books.