Pickard County Atlas by Chris Harding Thornton
1/5/21; 288 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pickard County Atlas by Chris Harding Thornton is a very
highly recommended rural noir that focuses on past traumas amid the
insular nature of a small town.
It is 1978
in a dusty town in the north central sandhills of Pickard County,
deputy Harley Jensen is on night patrol where he follows a routine
as he cruises the area and checks on the empty farmsteads located
throughout the county. He also keeps an eye out for Paul Reddick, a
young man who always seems to be involved in trouble of one kind or
another. In an attempt to bring some kind of closure after eighteen
years, Dell Reddick Sr. has just made the decision to place a headstone over an empty grave
for Dell Jr. who was killed in 1960 at the age of seven by a farmhand.
Then the man committed suicide before he could tell people where he
buried the boy and the body was never found. After this tragedy, the
Reddick family has struggled. Virginia Reddick, Dell Jr.'s mother,
withdrew into her own world and is said to be crazy. Rick Reddick is
trying the best he can but his wife, Pam feels trapped and wants to
escape from him, the constant struggle for money, and raising their
three year old daughter.
Harley Jensen has a past trauma that other's in the county know well.
In 1938 his mother committed suicide when he was young and the house
where it happened is one of the abandoned farm houses on his regular
patrol route. Harley is still traumatized by this, but can hide his
emotions as a part of his job. The novel unfolds during six oppressively
sweltering days and begins when Harley is on patrol and passes by his
family's old house, he sees Paul Reddick's truck parked there and turns
into the drive to see what trouble the youngest Reddick is up to now.
Pickard County Atlas is a wonderful example of rural noir and
highlights the small town gossip and stories that can follow a family
for generations. The slow start, while requiring some patience,
eventually pays off and allows the tension to gradually build while the
characters are introduced and their struggles with life are presented.
As each new days unfolds, we become privy to the characters disclosing
another incident, another misunderstanding, another enigma, another
question, another deduction, another secret. As each new piece of
information is added and builds upon the previous revelations, the novel
becomes increasingly compelling, hopeless, and complex. The characters
are well developed, and, although not especially likable, they are
realistic as they head toward what seems a predestined fate. The quality of the writing and prose is excellent, making this an impressive debut novel.