Mr. White's Confession: A Novel

Mr. White's Confession: A Novel

by Robert Clark

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Overview

Edgar® Award Winner for Best Novel and Winner of the PNBA Best Fiction Book of the Year

"As thrilling as it is unnerving . . . Could have been written by Dashiell Hammett or James Crumley—at their best."—Greil Marcus, Esquire

St. Paul, Minnesota, 1939. A grisly discovery is made. On a hillside, the dead body of a beautiful dime-a-dance girl is found, and an investigation opens. Assigned to the case is Police Lieutenant Wesley Horner, a man troubled and alone after his wife's recent death, a man with his own demons. He soon narrows his sights on Herbert White, an eccentric recluse and hobby photographer with a fondness for snapping suggestive photographs of the dime-a-dance girls. As Horner discovers, White is also a man with no memory, who must record his life in detailed journal entries and scrapbooks. For every interrogation Horner has, Herbert White has few answers, pushing the murder investigation into unknown territory and illuminating the complex relationship between truth and fiction, past and present, faith and memory.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312428129
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 09/02/2008
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Robert Clark is the author of In the Deep Midwinter, My Grandfather's House, River of the West, and The Solace of Food. He lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

PART I

CITY OF THE WORLD

    THE FIRST TIME WESLEY HORNER SAW HIM WAS AT THE White Castle near Seven Corners, where Wesley was drinking coffee with his partner. He sat, balding and rotund, on his stool, like an egg in an eggcup, and ate three hamburgers, removing the pickle slices and stacking them on the saucer of his coffee cup. He ate slowly, delicately. His hands were fine but fleshy, the fingers arching as they took up the last hamburger, the coffee cup, and then the homburg from the counter. Then he rose, bobbing heavily, steadily upward, like wreckage surfacing on the sea, nodded to the waitress, and laid a quarter down, shyly waving away his change. He gathered up his parcels--a sack from the St. Paul Book & Stationery Company and a flat, rectangular Kodak-yellow box--and shambled to the door, his body moving as if in two unsynchronized halves, a donkey cart with mismatched wheels.

    Wesley, on his stool, spun himself around to the big plate-glass window and watched him walk down the street toward the base of the hill on which the cathedral sat among the elms, their leaves amber and russet. Then Wesley looked over to his partner. O'Connor rolled his eyes and jerked his head slowly upward in a gesture of lugubrious disdain. "Sheesh," he said. "What a gimp!"

    "Mighty peculiar," Wesley assented.

    "Retard?"

    "Maybe. Or a half-wit."

    "Pansy?" O'Connor's eyes were big, amused, pressing Wesley for a conclusive judgment.

    "Could be, Sergeant, could be," Wesley said wearily, refusing to be drawn. He tugged down on the brim of his fedora as though reckoning with a persistent itch. Then he and O'Connor sat in the window together, looking out, watching.

    Wesley shook out the last cigarette from his pack, struck a match on the underside of the stool, and drew the flame to his face and the smoke into his chest. He pulled on his hat brim again, and the brim angled down in line with his long, fierce nose, his incredulous chin, the landslide of his face. Smoke spumed from his nostrils like water from a sluice.

    He twisted the empty cigarette pack with his hands until it was taut, and then he threw it on the floor by his feet. He and O'Connor got up to leave, to go out and see what the street and the cooling air of dusk could tell them, and the cigarette pack lay on the oyster-tiled floor and even as they were leaving began to unknot itself with an imperceptible rustle of cellophane, green and writhing like a rupturing cocoon.

Friday, September 29, 1939

    I am beginning a journal in this book today. I suppose that is self-evident, but this is how it happened, as best I can recall. After work (Mr. Wright said I could go, that the filing was all done, that there was nothing else for me today) I went to the stationery store to buy a new scrapbook, the same kind I always buy, the Ideal No. 51. The clerk told me they were out and they would be for some time. Needless to say, I was somewhat distraught, for this is the model of scrapbook I have been using since I was ten, since 1914, since the beginning of the Great War. It is no small matter, for this is how I know what has happened to me and to the world. It is my memory, so to speak, since I am not very good at remembering on my own.

    In any event, I decided to make the best of a bad lot, and I told the clerk to show me what else they had. I ended up purchasing an Ideal No. 6, a larger model, with a spine strung with black cord and pages that can take nearly a whole newspaper broadsheet without folding. I was so pleased with this purchase that I had the clerk show me some writing books I had noticed, because I thought: Why should I not record a few thoughts and memories myself, rather than rely wholly on the newspaper and magazine clippings? Mr. Wright says I have a fine hand (the last of the copperplates, he calls me) and that I am well-spoken. It is only for myself, although I cannot but hope that as with the scrapbooks, someday what I record might perhaps be of some historical interest in its own small way, rather like the time capsule they have buried at the World's Fair in New York. Surely we are living in exciting times, on the verge of great things!

    So I bought the Ideal No. 24, with cream pages ruled in green. The cover is like marble, black and white swirled up together like thunderheads and milk, like the top of the washstand in my room at Nanna's. I am going to try to write every day, Nanna said I wrote like Ralph Waldo Emerson, whom we often used to read together. When she tried to enroll me at the Academy, they said I composed English as though it were Latin, which I would have thought a fine thing, since I knew no Latin and still know none. But I am not so sure that the masters at the Academy viewed it that way, or at least they suggested it might be best that I continue to be schooled at home.

    After I bought the scrapbook and the writing book, I treated myself to supper at the White Castle. I had coffee and hamburgers, three of them, I think, for even now I am feeling well fed and content.

In the violet dawn light of Saturday morning, her red hair was deep as blue neon, and her skin was silvery white, except at the bottom of her body, where the blood had settled and colored her scarlet and brown and copper green. By the time the police came--alerted by a neighbor who heard the baying of the derelict who'd stumbled across her body in the weeds--a breeze had started up and the sun was full on the hillside. Her rayon dress was gathered up above her waist, and sometimes the hem brushed her neck and slithered in the wind. A garter stay, unsheathed from her stocking, luffed like a ship's pennant and slapped her leg.

    Wesley and O'Connor came about ten o'clock, crunching through the dry grass and shattered leaves and blasted milkweed pods to the level spot where she lay. The coroner, Dr. Nash, was there with two patrolmen. He was kneeling on the ground and holding her chin, turning her face toward him and then away, regarding her neck intently. He stood up and brushed off his knees and looked at Wesley.

    "Know anything yet?" Wesley asked. Nash sputtered out a long breath with his lips and wiped his forehead. O'Connor was crouching on his haunches two feet from her body, and he began to sift the dirt and the loose stones with his fingers.

    "I don't think she's been here long," Nash said. "Hasn't been dead long, for that matter. Maybe only since early this morning."

    "How?"

    "How did she die? It looks like she was hit on the side of the head and then throttled." Nash knelt again and drew his finger over the crimson and lavender arc that ran around her neck.

    "All done here, or someplace else?"

    "I couldn't say. If it was done someplace else, it would have to be close by, given how recently the death must have occurred."

    O'Connor stood, holding some rocks in his hand. He gestured up the slope. "You'd have to be pretty strong to carry a deadweight into here."

    "You'd have to be pretty strong to have strangled her in the first place," said Nash. Wesley nodded.

    O'Connor held out his hand. "Fossils," he said. "In the rock. Little cylinder-type things with rings around them. And seashells and little horseshoe crab things no bigger than your thumbnail."

    "Trilobites," said Nash, and he took one of the rocks from O'Connor's hand. "Caught in the limestone." He gestured around and out, down toward the flat and the river. "All this was underwater, at the bottom of the sea."

    Wesley was still looking up to where the street was and to the head of a set of pedestrian steps leading down the hill to another street below. "So she could have been knocked out and strangled and then carried here. He must have used the steps and then cut over to here--too steep to have brought her straight down. And he'd have to be nuts to have carried her all the way up."

    "I'd think it goes without saying he was nuts," Nash interjected. "I'm assuming when we get her downtown we'll see signs of some kind of sexual violation, judging from the clothes and so forth."

    Wesley was still looking out toward the steps, as though watching for someone to descend. "He didn't have to be nuts. I'm not sure they're ever nuts; maybe just evil. In the bone." Wesley stopped for a moment. "Or this is just what they like to do, and it's all very planned and reasonable, like it's a job or a hobby--a pastime, like collecting stamps or something."

    "That's an interesting view, Lieutenant Homer," said Nash with a bemused smile.

    Wesley turned around to face him. "So we'll come see you around, say, four this afternoon, and you'll know a little more maybe?" Nash nodded.

    "Okay," Wesley said, and then he called out to the two patrolmen. "You guys figure out how to get her downtown. I don't see you getting a gurney in here. Use some blankets or something. When she goes downtown with Dr. Nash, one of you stays here with Sergeant O'Connor. Start searching--all around here and up to the street and all along the steps. Maybe you'll find whatever he hit her with. Maybe a handbag, some clothing." Wesley looked down at her body. There was a cordon of tiny ants moving through her hair toward the wound above her ear. "Has she got shoes? No, she doesn't. Why hasn't she got any goddamned shoes? Maybe you'll find the shoes. Or maybe he's got the shoes. Anyway, now we know she didn't walk in here, don't we? He carried her. Or she walked in and then he killed her and he took the shoes with him, like a souvenir." He looked around at the patrolmen and at O'Connor and Dr. Nash. "One more thing. Nothing to the papers, not a word. Not until tonight, after the doctor's finished with her and maybe we know who she is."

Saturday, September 30, 1939

    Today passed uneventfully although I varied my routine somewhat, leaving the house earlier than usual and walking down the Lawton Steps to catch the Grand Avenue streetcar instead of my regular route. Mr. Wright had me go to the post office and fill some envelopes with some papers. I had an egg salad sandwich for lunch, which I ate in the concourse at Union Station. In the afternoon, on my way home, I went to the camera store and bought some chemicals for the darkroom. It was a sunny, slightly windy day, and I decided to walk all the way home.

    On the way, I had the notion to go into the cathedral. I am not a church member--particularly not of the Roman Church, which Nanna always insisted was nothing more than a cult of Irish laborers and superstitious ninnies. But I am always rather moved by the majesty of the building, and there is something of mystery--of perhaps the Orient--in the scent of the incense and the colored light and so forth. Anyway, I made a circuit of the passage running behind the main altar, where there are chapels dedicated to various saints, and on a whim I put a penny in a slot and lit one of those candles that sit in rows on a stand in little red glass jars. I don't really know why I did it, but I thought it could do no harm and perhaps might bring me luck in some form, or at least be a symbol of good intentions. I think my hands shook with some trepidation as I lit the candle, and I made a hasty exit, rather fearing that I might be accosted by one of the priests, who might object to my undertaking a practice reserved for members of the Roman faith or try to entice me into conversion. As I said, I told myself it was harmless at the very worst, and when I thought to myself about my candle, and of all the candles burning in the cathedral and in all the other churches around the world, I could not help but think that that is no small thing, all that light from those candles and the prayers and intentions or just whims that go with them.

    I believe the particular chapel I stopped in was dedicated to Saint Anthony of Padua. It had a statue of that saint in it, a monk of some kind holding a child in his arms and, I suppose, of Italian origin. Nanna had an Italian gardener when I was small. I cannot say that he ever carried me in his arms, but I am sure he once pushed me around the garden in his wheelbarrow.

    When I got home, I made myself a can of Hormel corned beef hash and another of Van Camp's lima beans, and then I worked in the darkroom on some prints from the rolls I took of Ruby from the Aragon Ballroom. Sometimes I notice that I feel very alone in the darkroom. It is quite dark, of course, and it is easy there to feel like a child shut in a closet, afraid of spooks. And of course when I look at a negative projected on the enlarger easel, with everything reversed, the people look like monsters and ghosts and it is not so hard to believe that I am looking at something real, at how things really are inside themselves, all ugly and inverted and just the opposite of how they normally seem. But then I become aware of my radio playing out in the hall, and I can hear the voices of the men, deep like Grandfather's, and the women, like birdsong, and I see the sliver of light under the doorway, and I know that I am inside my home and that what I see on the easel are only shadows--what things are before they are--and not how things truly are or ever shall be. For that comes about through the light of the enlarger onto the empty surface of the photographic paper and then in the tray where I watch the images become themselves like candles taking flame.

    Afterward, I worked on my scrapbook and my collections, and now, before I go to my bed, I am writing this and thinking how really very fine and good everything is.

That afternoon Wesley went to see Dr. Nash at the morgue on Hill Street, down by the tracks by the river. Nash was sitting at a little oak desk in a room with green and black tile and tall frosted windows set above eye level. There were two steel tables, shallowly recessed, with a drain at either end, and on one of them there was a body, covered with a faded light-green sheet.

    Wesley sat down at the desk and set his hat on the corner next to the telephone. "That her?" he asked Nash.

    Nash said, "Yes. I'm done. Just waiting for you to come before I put her in the cooler."

    "And?"

    "Not so fast, Lieutenant." Nash took a pony of rye whiskey and two glasses from the desk drawer. "It's been a long day. Have a drink."

    Wesley seemed to think for a minute. "Can I smoke?"

    "I don't think anyone here's going to object."

    "Okay, give me a drink. Can't drink without a smoke."

    Wesley lit a cigarette and Nash poured two shots. They drank. Wesley exhaled. "So?" he said.

    "She was a fine healthy girl. Probably not much over twenty-five. No other trauma than what we saw on the bluff. That surprised me."

    "She hadn't been ..."

    "Violated? There was semen, yes. But no sign of force."

    "But she was with someone close to the time of death?"

    "Oh, yes. Quite fresh. Deposited at the entrance to the vagina, though, rather than well inside."

    "So?" Wesley waved his cigarette and glanced around as though looking for an ashtray. "I can't put this on the floor...."

    "No, I wouldn't like that," Nash said, and pushed a kidney-shaped enamel dish across the desk toward him. "Anyway, the semen. The placement's consistent with rape, but there's no sign of force, as I said, no struggle, no fighting. So I'd guess it was just garden-variety premature ejaculation. That's Krafft-Ebing lingo for--"

    "Johnny on the spot?"

    "Exactly."

    "So she had sex with him and then he killed her," Wesley said. "Unless she had sex with one guy and then met the killer after. Get any sense that she might be a hooker? Clap scars, stuff like that?"

    "No. She wore a fair amount of makeup. But more in a theatrical way than anything cheap or lurid. She was a pretty girl, you know."

    Wesley nodded. "So they do it, and then maybe they fight. But he doesn't slap her around. He just knocks her out and kills her. Cool as a cucumber."

    "So you see it as premeditated."

    "How else is there to see it?"

    "Maybe it wasn't planned. Maybe he just did it. He makes love to her and then he feels sad. He feels remorse."

    "So he kills her to cheer himself up?"

    Nash looked annoyed. "No; because he can't bear what he's done."

    "He screws a pretty, willing girl and he can't bear it?"

    "Sometimes beauty is unbearable. It makes you sad. Sometimes people are sad after they make love," Nash said. "It's something poets have written about."

    "This guy was no poet. Just a cold-blooded bastard."

    "Well, I've given up trying to fathom the human heart. I've seen too many. I've seen too much."

    "So how do you ... bear this?" Wesley glanced around the room. The ceiling was high, with transparent bulbs dangling from it on braided cords.

    "Oh, this. This isn't unbearable."

    "Takes a strong stomach, I'd guess."

    Nash shrugged. "It's just life. Or what comes after. The residue. The footprints. That's why they call it pathology, my med school professor used to say. You're just following their path, trying to figure out which way they went, how they died." He unscrewed the pony and lapped what was left in it into their glasses. "That's how you lose your disgust, your fear of this. People think a body dead is really the same thing as a body alive, that it's still someone. But that's exactly what it lacks--being someone--and every second it's disintegrating, coming apart, being less and less, until it's nothing at all but some dust. So I can bear this. It makes me sad to think of the person a corpse used to be. Examining them, touching, I get intimations of who they were, or at least how they must have looked or maybe even moved, intimations of their beauty and their sufferings and all the rest that the body still carries."

    Wesley shook his head and then he nodded. "I should go. We need an identification. Someone ought to be missing her by now."

    Nash stood. "Do you want to see her? Before you go?"

    "Okay."

    Nash's shoes clicked and scuffed over the linoleum to the steel table, and he lifted the sheet and pulled it down. Wesley waved his hand as though fending off a blow. "You don't need to do that ...," he said.

    "It's okay, Lieutenant. She's not anyone anymore. You can't embarrass her."

    The girl's skin had grown darker, mottled as though the copper-green color was slowly wicking up through the rest of her body. Her breasts were small and freckled, her fingers curled loosely, her lips gapped and a sliver apart. Nash touched her head. "Beautiful hair," he said.

    But for the ring of purple around her neck and the wound above her ear, she might have been asleep, Wesley thought, but very, very cold. Her pallor was like a sheen of oil refracting a dozen shades of violet and indigo and green tending to orange as she darkened, as her body gave up the last of its heat. It was as if she were still dying and would be dying for a very long time, until she was dark and icy as a cinder. That was what Wesley saw, what he was watching happen. Every few moments he would find his eyes skittering uncontrolled down to her waist, drawn to the flame of her pubic hair, the lips that cleaved her mons, the well of sorrows and trouble that had brought her here. Wesley wanted to see her as a child, a frozen, drowned child, but his eyes wouldn't let him.

    "You can cover her up," he said. Nash was standing absentmindedly opposite Wesley, his fingers splayed like a pianist's on the table, next to the girl's shoulder. He looked down and then at Wesley with an expression like pity, not for the girl but in some way for Wesley himself. Then he drew the sheet up from the girl's feet and smoothed it with the flat of his hand over her head.

    Nash expected Wesley would say something about the disposition of the body between now and the time when, presumably, somebody would step forward to identify and claim it. But instead he went back to Nash's desk and picked up his hat and turned and faced Nash, holding the hat in front of his waist, and said, "I had a daughter about her age. She'd be twenty-three now."

    "I'm sorry. I didn't know. How long ago was it?" Nash said. "When she ...?"

    "Oh, we don't know that she's dead. She just disappeared. Or left, or something ..."

    "Or something?"

    "It was five years ago. She was supposed to have run off to Chicago with a man from the Hoover vacuum company. Or that was what her best friend thought. But we never heard anything from her, not a word. Never have. Never will, I suppose."

    "I'm sorry. Sometimes not knowing seems worse than--"

    "Worse than death? Well, it was the death of her mother. Got cancer a year after she'd gone, died a year after that."

    "I knew about that. But I'm awfully--"

    "You know what I don't understand--about my Louise or that one?" Wesley flung his arm out toward the table, and its shadow hung over the linoleum like a high, thin cloud. "Or any of them. I don't understand what gets into them or why they don't listen to their parents or their teachers or anybody with any sense. It just goes out the window, all for some lover boy or thinking they're going to go out to Hollywood or whatever. Breaking other people's hearts all along the way, without so much as a by-your-leave."

    Nash looked as though he were standing very far away. Finally he said, "It's a terrible mystery, isn't it?" and Wesley saw he was still standing next to the girl, with his hand by her head.

    Wesley hurried to excuse himself, pulling his hat on and tugging it down front and back with both hands. "Well, we'll let you know when there's an ID," he said, and he pushed through two sets of doors and into the long hallway, hung dimly with white, mushroom-shaped light globes down the center. It seemed to taper to an end in the far distance, and he could hear the echo of his own footsteps bouncing back to meet him, and his heart was a stone of dread he carried heavily before him. Because the truth was that here, in this empty, silent corridor, he could hear the winding down of the world, the guttering of its breath, feel the weight of its inexorable doom descending. It was what parents could not bring themselves to tell their children about. Perhaps if he'd told Louise, had he known then, she would have stayed. But then she could never have forgiven him for bringing her into such a place.

    He thought of the girl in the morgue and of her body, and he imagined her alive and all the things women did that she must have done and that were incomprehensible to him: how she might have sat brushing her hair in indolent strokes or painting her toenails, bent like a bird to a nest of fledglings; how her voice, her fingers, her eyebrows, might inflect themselves in a hundred subtleties, faint as prayers; how her dress would hang on her hips, how it might brush the back of her calves. In all this he saw how her beauty in life might have been as unbearable as her beauty in death and that even reduced to a naked corpse, marbled with cold and congealing blood, prodded and assayed by coroners and detectives, she remained unknowable, as lost to his ken as Louise. And although it was not an answer to any of the things he had been thinking about, he found himself speaking to the dead girl, saying, "For your sake, I'll find the bastard that did this."

    He was on the street and almost to his car when he was accosted by a man in a fedora and a suit with huge, pointed lapels. It was Farrell from the Dispatch, and Wesley did not want to deal with him, not now.

    Farrell smiled narrowly at Wesley, as though he'd caught him in a fib. "I hear you guys have something down here, something you're sitting on."

    "I can't say anything. Not now. Not yet."

    "You ought to fess up," Farrell said, and he held his palm up and regarded it as though he could see the dead girl's face in it. "They say confession is good for the soul."

    "I can't give you anything. There's things we don't know, people that have to be told. In the right way."

    "I hear a capital crime's been committed. I'd say the public had a right to know."

    "I can't help you, Farrell. I'm sorry."

    Farrell frowned as though he'd been disappointed over what was a reasonable and inconsequential request. "Well, Lieutenant, I'm sorry. But I can't stop my editor from doing what he feels is right by the public, can I?"

    Wesley exhaled tightly through his lips. "Look, Farrell. Give me until lunchtime tomorrow. Then I'll tell you everything we have."

    "Me and everybody else, I suppose."

    "Okay, okay. I'll hold the others off until five o'clock. It'll be all yours for the afternoon editions. That sound fair?"

    "Fair enough. I'll see you at noon at your desk. Just the two of us."

    Wesley nodded and watched Farrell stroll away with his hands in his pockets. Then Wesley slid into his car, bone weary. He lit a cigarette and sat with the windows rolled up, lost in the veils and palls of smoke.

Sunday, October 1, 1939

    Today I went to the pictures at the Paramount. The show was City of the World, with Veronica Galvin, who is undoubtedly my favorite actress. The newsreel was about nothing but the new war in Europe and whether we shall be drawn into it, President Roosevelt's assurances to the contrary. But that was all as nothing once the picture began. I consumed an entire roll of Necco wafers without so much as a thought, so caught up was I in the picture and so enraptured by Miss Galvin. She is, of course, a splendid actress, but I think it is her hair--which I gather from the magazines is auburn--that I find most compelling, the way it drapes her face and swings when she whirls around and says something passionate or tips her head forward to hide her eyes.

    I was going to stop and have an ice cream sundae at the fountain at the Rexall on the way home, but I felt compelled to rush back and record my thoughts here. It has occurred to me that I might kill two birds with one stone by writing directly to Miss Galvin--as I felt moved to do in any case--and composing the first draft here on these pages. I have written Miss Galvin before, and received a kind note and a signed photograph in reply. So here goes:

475 Laurel Avenue
Apartment B
St. Paul, Minnesota

Miss Veronica Galvin
Pantheon Pictures, Incorporated
Hollywood, California

Dear Miss Galvin,

    I have written you before, so perhaps you will recall my name. In any case, I have just returned from seeing City of the World and was instantly moved to take up my pen and tell you how superb was your performance in the role of Kit O'Dea. It was not merely a matter of your acting or, of course, your beauty, but of the way you penetrated to the heart of the character and brought out the deeper, philosophical meaning of her lines. I am thinking particularly of the scene just before the climax of the picture, when you say to your costar--and I think I recall the lines accurately--"Don't you see, Johnny, that you can't go on running, running from the G-men, from me, from every good thing we could have together. Because I just want the things every decent girl wants. Johnny, please, just tell me you want them too." Then, when he looks over to the window to see if the G-men have found you yet, and he moves toward the door and you understand that he's leaving, you look up at him and then cast your eyes down and flip your hair and say, "Oh, Johnny, you're such a chump, and I ... I've been such a fool."

    I found this scene extremely moving and meaningful, perhaps because, rather like Kit and Johnny, I've had to find my own way in the world. I don't know if I mentioned this in my previous letter, but I was an orphan. My mother died giving birth to me, and when the war began, in 1914, my father signed up with a Canadian regiment and was killed in Europe. I myself suffer from a few maladies associated with my difficult birth, chiefly having to do with my memory and the coordination of my muscles. I think I am considered a little bit odd.

    I mention this not to attract any sympathy but simply to say that I understand that we must make our own way in the world and that we must strive to see the good in it and in our lives and not resign ourselves to despair or cynicism or futility no matter what. When Johnny leaves you and goes up to the top of the peak and fights it out with the G-men who surround him and is gunned down (I must say, it seems to me that this is the fate of many of your leading men--I recall much the same denouement in Salton Sea and Rio Negro), it is because he does not understand this, unlike your character, Kit. He seems to believe the world is divided into realms of light and darkness and that he has no choices in it and that love can accomplish nothing in it.

    I think this is your finest performance since To Marry and To Burn, and I hope you will be acknowledged for it. It is certainly the equal of anything Miss Leigh did in Gone With the Wind earlier this year, a picture that I maintain does not speak nearly so well to our current concerns in the world. I hope you will be able to find a few moments to reply to me and perhaps give me your thoughts about these matters. I would be pleased to hear more of your personal philosophy of life, which I suspect may not be dissimilar to my own.

Assuring you of my devoted best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
Herbert W. White

I believe I should stop and copy this out onto letter paper immediately, while I remember to, and then go post it while it is still on my mind. It is a complicated business--I write things down in order to remember them, but then I must remember to read what I've written down. Fortunately, I don't have much of a problem with the things I am working on in the immediate moment or with the events of, say, the last week or so. And I can also recall the events of the distant past with great clarity. It is the middle distance that gives me difficulty--the things that have happened between the previous week and the previous year.

    I suppose this failing of my mind would be disconcerting for anyone, but I must say it can also be rather amusing, if seen in the right light. For example, not long ago--I don't recall precisely when--a salesman from the Hoover vacuum cleaner company called on me at home and persuaded me to purchase one of their new upright models, a brown one with a dust bag in fabric rather like Harris tweed. I thought he looked familiar, but I suppose I was carried off by his "sales patter" and general conviviality. He told me that when he returned home to Chicago, he would toast me and my purchase in the bar at the Palmer House Hotel.

    After he left, I thought I would put the new vacuum cleaner away in the hall closet. Well, imagine my surprise when I opened the door and beheld an identical vacuum cleaner already there, one I had presumably purchased sometime earlier and forgotten about. I assume that is why the salesman looked familiar. He must be a scoundrel, unless, perhaps, he has the same sort of memory difficulties as me. But if that were the case, I rather doubt he would be able to perform a salesman's duties.

    Needless to say, this sort of thing happens with some frequency Just yesterday I went to the selfsame closet, and when I opened it I found a pair of rather pretty women's shoes there, thrown in the back. I have no idea where they came from--presumably one of the girls I've had over for photography, Ruby or Clare or Gwendolyn. I think perhaps they get lost in their beauty just as I do, and then, like me, forget things.

[CONTINUES...]

What People are Saying About This

"As thrilling as it is unnerving....Could have been written by Dashiell Hammett or James Crumley--at their best." --Greil Marcus, Esquire

"A pulsing tale of redemption and original goodness." --Pico Iyer, Time

"Strong, brooding...Clark's most striking achievement is Herbert's ambiguity, making it appear at once vulnerable and threatening." --Dan Cryer, Newsday

"Complex...intriguing...a fascinating and timely journey into the American psyche." --Barbara Lloyd McMichael, Seattle Times

"A novel of substance...reveals the subtlety of [Robert Clark's] artistry and the profundity of his vision." --Merle Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

"The long ruminations of Mr. White...give the book its intensity and mystery." --The New Yorker

Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Mr. White's Confession are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Mr. White's Confession.

Discussion Questions

1. Because of his faulty memory, Herbert White can only recollect the formative experiences of his distant past—his father leaving to serve in World War I and Nanna's death—and the events of the immediate past, incidents that happened a few hours ago or perhaps the day before. Can what Herbert remembers be trusted? Is your memory any more trustworthy than this?

2. Mr. White's Confession is in many respects an examination of good and evil. In Herbert's world, what form does evil take? How does his understanding of it differ from Wesley's? From Maggie's? On page 22, Farrell, the newspaper reporter, says to Wesley, "Like the book says, none of us is without stain." Does that statement hold true even for Herbert, or is his character purely innocent?

3. Both Herbert and Wesley have unconventional relationships with women. What role does Maggie play in Wesley's life? How does Ruby affect Herbert? What is the importance of Herbert's "relationships" with film starlets like Veronica Galvin?

4. On page 122, Herbert says to Ruby, "I rather wish I remembered more, for your sake. So I could have more of a personality, more of a past." In what ways has Herbert's perception of his past formed him? How does Herbert's imperfect memory speak to the ways in which our own pasts, and our ability to remember them, shape who we are?

5. Most would agree that Herbert White's written confession to the murders of the two dancers was coerced and therefore not altogether true. Why do you think Herbert confessed?

6. On page 24, Herbert writes, "When I am making a print, when I am dodging or burning an exposure, I am gilding [places of beauty], illuminating them, or protecting the tenderest places from the scald of light, burnishing them with shadow. It is as close as I ever come to touching them, but I am helping them be—or rather become, for a photograph is only a moment of becoming." What do you make of Herbert White's hobby—what is the importance of his photography in relation to the novel as a whole? How does it relate to his problems with memory?

7. Robert Clark wrote Wesley Horner's sections of the novel using the conventions of hard-boiled, pulp fiction. How does this technique fit with Wesley's character? How does this kind of writing differ from the journal entries of Mr. White? What kind of effect does this contrast have?

8. As the novel progresses, Herbert White comes to think about God more and more as his own circumstances steadily deteriorate. What do we learn from Herbert about faith? How does he come to his understanding of God? How does his relationship with God change throughout the course of the novel/ What about Wesley? Although he doesn't think about God as intensely as Herbert does, he does experience a rebirth of faith? How does that come about?

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Mr. White's Confession 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two dance hall girls are murdered in the Minneapolis of the late 1930s, and a slightly retarded man is falsely accused of the crimes. The story alternates between the diary entries of the suspect, Mr. White, and the life of the police detective charged with solving the crime. This contemporary mystery set in the noir world of the past is an engaging story that leaves the reader with a bittersweet feeling.
TimBazzett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I started reading Robert Clark a few years ago, beginning with LOVE AMONG THE RUINS, an absolutely exquisite and tragic novel of young love in the turmoil of the late sixties. I was hooked. Then I read IN THE DEEP MIDWINTER which kept me firmly in the fold of Clark followers. With MR. WHITE'S CONFESSION I am a confirmed believer. Clark is perhaps the consumate voice of fiction for the St. Paul region. While reading his stuff I wondered if he knew Patricia Hampl or had read her mesmerizing St. Paul memoir, THE FLORIST'S DAUGHTER. Because the same locales and streets come up in all of the books. I've never visited St. Paul, but after reading Clark and Hampl, I feel like I know the place. MR. WHITE'S CONFESSION is a slightly different kinda animal from Clark's other two novels in that it is set mostly in the year 1939 with lots of historical and cultural references from that year, and, perhaps most significantly, it is a "crime novel." A cover blurb from Greil Marcus likens the book to "Dashiel Hammett or James Crumley - at their best." That's damn good company Mr. Clark is keeping, and I couldn't agree more. But this is so much more than just a murder mystery; it is a dual character study in the best literary tradition: of the suspected murderer, or the "Dime-a-Dance Monster," Herbert White; and the homicide detective, Wesley Horner. Herbert White is a fascinating creation, a gentle giant kind of character, described as a tall, shambling man with a round Humpty-Dumpty head (and look) and huge hands. Orphaned at an early age, White was apparently home schooled (and well) by his devoted grandmother. There is something altogether odd, perhaps even Asperger-ian, about White, who suffers from a fractured, defective memory. So he has kept scrapbooks and Proustian journals for years to make up for this defect. His looks, however, cannot be helped. People are often afraid of him, so his life since the death of his grandmother has been a solitary one of very regular routines and habits. He has worked for years as a clerk and spends his free time with his scrapbooks and journals, going to the movies weekly, and frequenting the local dance hall and making photographic 'studies' of the girls who work there. Two of these girls turn up dead and therein lies the tale upon which the novel turns. I spent a little time researching Robert Clark after I discovered his work and found he'd written a biography of the famous cook/chef, James Beard. I know almost nothing about Beard, but in reading a bit about him and studying some photos of him, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps there weren't a bit of Beard in Clark's character of Herbert White - certainly in the physical description, and perhaps in the sensibilities too. Because White seems at heart a gentle, lonely soul, who has studied the classics and writes in a very Victorian style, and whose sexual identity seems unformed and innocent. But whether there is anything of Beard in him, Herbert White is a totally unique fictional creation - one I will remember for a long time. The other central character, detective Wesley Horner, is equally fascinating, if a bit more conventional. A tragic figure in that he has lost his wife to cancer and his only daughter simply disappeared, Horner finds a kind of brief salvation in a relationship with Maggie, a sixteen year-old girl he rescues from the street. Since the relationship becomes sexual, some might take issue with it (Horner is in his forties), but Clark manages to make it seem sweetly redemptive, for both parties involved, as indeed it is. There is evil incarnate in this tale, however, make no mistake. But I'm not a spoiler, so I'll mention no names, although astute readers will have their suspicions early on. Bad things happen, to be sure, but there are some wonderfully kind and sweet things that occur here too, and even some "off stage" intimations of nearly "happily-ever-after" kinda stuff - bittersweet perhaps, but still ... The thing is this
dauphine on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Once I started reading this book I wanted to read it to the end. It does not tie up the loose ends of the murders - and the more I think about them the more questions I have so I can see where others might be disappointed. What kept my interest was the character development - in particular that of Wes Horner the Police Lieutenant and his relationships with others. I did not like the character of Herbert White, but guilty or innocent I don't necessarily think I was meant to "like" him. The book actually reminds me of the TV shows I tend to watch about murders and the stories surrounding them, in particular the ones where they have never really proven who committed the crime but the show presents the characters and the stories surrounding the events (48 hours mystery, etc...). You can form your opinions on the crime based on what you know about the characters but you will never really know what happened.
bedda on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. White¿s Confession is not a traditional mystery. There is a mystery in the book but that is not what the book is about. It is more a character study of two men whose lives cross paths due to murder. We get to hear from both Mr. White, the suspect, and Lieutenant Horner, the investigating police officer. Both men are lost in the vast uncertainty of their past and future. You can sympathize with these men as they struggle with their very different problems, White with his faulty memory and Horner life¿s complications and the police corruption around him. Clark has an interesting writing style that I enjoyed most of the time. Phrases like `and exhaled as if his whole soul were smoke going up a chimney¿, and `the whiskey sat dark on the white drain board like a caramel in a girl¿s gloved hand¿ permeate the book. It does make for colorful imagery but they are everywhere and sometimes get long and feel forced like the story was fitted around the beautiful language instead of the language fitting into a beautiful story. The book is definitely interesting and enjoyable to read and I like it overall. As someone who usually likes all the loose ends tied up with a bow I think I should warn readers that they will not get that in this book. There are things that are not spelled out and left open to interpretation. It does not bother my in this case because I believe that although there may still be some questions the central parts of the story were all brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
squeakjones on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Black, grey...Mr. White's Confession by Robert Clark is anything but white. The story of the double-murder of two dancing girls in the 1930s, and of one detective's hunt to pin the crime of Mr. White, a strange recluse whose memory loss provides either a guilty shield or a convenient alibi, straddles a fine line between its base content and its more highbrow literary aspirations. Clark writes with an eye toward character as opposed to grisly plot points, and the outcomes is a nice, balanced crime thriller that may have you guessing the identity of the murderer before its revelation at the end, but the journey is good enough that you don't care.
christiguc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. White¿s Confession is a mystery¿a 1930s detective is trying to overcome corruption and petty competition to solve a string of murders of a dime-a-dance girls¿but it attempts to expand beyond the genre by exploring variations in writing style, perception, and motivation. However, it doesn¿t quite do any of those themes justice and, in throwing aside mystery's conventions and tools, it falls short of a satisfying mystery.In theory, the author has a good concept, and he writes very well. The book was good, and perhaps if the author had been a bit more certain in focus, it could have been excellent.
SidWilliams on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. White's Confession is an Edgar Winner, but it is more than a simple mystery novel. It is an elegant, intricate examination of truth, memory and perception. It is well worth the attention of the serious reader.Set in 1939, the story examines a murder case from diverse angles. When two dime-a-dance taxi dancers are murdered, Mr. White, a clerk with a penchant for glamor photography becomes a prime suspect.Mr. White, a massive man, has no short-term memory, so he can't say he is innocent for certain. Detective Wesley Horner, a deeply saddened man due to personal losses, believes him guilty and, at first, accepts the confession of the title, obtained by a fellow officer by psychological coercion. Eventually Horner comes to doubt the confession however and risks everything to obtain the truth. Ironic turns, beautiful prose and true insight make this work worth of its Edgar and a notable book with many merits.
luckymuffins on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would recommend this book simply because of the way that it is written. The book changes from the POV of the Detective, and then alternates to the POV of the suspect. You can tell the difference because the author puts both in a different font. Very easy to read, and makes you want to keep reading. The ending was a bit bizarre, and I still cannot tell if it gave me what I wanted or not.
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Mr. White's Confession is the story of a series of murders in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1939. Dime-a-dance girls are being strangled and the only suspect is a man named Herbert White. White is an odd little chap - due to an accident at birth, he has no long term memory. He writes a detailed account of his day-to-day life in a series of journals, keeping track of the places he goes, the people he sees, even the foods he eats; otherwise, it quickly fades from his memory. He has a passion for photography - he takes portrait photos of the dime-a-dance girls, who describe him as sweet and shy and harmless - and a hopeless crush on an actress named Veronica Galvin. And yet, he is accused of brutally murdering two women.This is 1939. There are no fingerprints and no fancy forensic technology to retrieve the killer's DNA. There are only questions and witnesses and thuggish police officers who believe everyone is guilty of something. Poor Herbert doesn't stand a chance.This is also the story of Wesley Horner, the police lieutenant assigned to the case. His wife has died, his daughter ran off and he's fast becoming a lonely, bitter man, until a teenage runaway named Maggie comes into his life. She gives him something to care about, which is a dangerous thing for a man in Wesley's position.This story doesn't play out the in the usual detective story format, which is refreshing. The characters are interesting and clearly drawn - I got completely caught up in Wesley's story and his heartbreak. One thing that sticks with me, months after reading the book, is how distinctive the voices were. Horner and his cop cohorts are so far removed from the delicate, naive voice of White's journals, you would really believe they came from different authors. A very well-written, original take on a standard detective story.
ninjapenguin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I feel like I am not the person the publishers' wanted to review this book. My library is filled with cozy, not hard-boiled mysteries. I look at the language in this book, the dizzying stack of metaphors and similes, every sentence carefully crafted to explore some image or examine the speaker's psychological state, and I wonder, "Does anyone really talk this way? Or think this way?"That said, I feel disappointed by this book. The implications of White's faulty memory never seem like they're as fully explored as I would like. There are a couple of hints, scattered mainly at the end, that maybe White could have been a killer, but after all of the other evidence, you never really feel very convinced of it. This makes me wonder why they were included--to try to make some deeper point about how we all could have a killer in us and not realize it? You would think that in a mystery where the main suspect literally cannot remember if he committed the crimes or not, that there would be more tension about the identity of the murderer. We should be left wondering if it's possible that White is the murderer, but we're really not.I also can't help wishing there was more Welshinger in the novel. He's such a pivotal charcter in here, yet we know so little about him. The things he tells Wesley and White, are we supposed to apply them to him? What is his motive? Does he even realize what he's doing? And maybe that's why I don't get along with this book. It doesn't seem to care about the murders, about the mystery at all. It's an examination of the persistence of memory, "literary fiction" cloaked in the words of a hard-boiled mystery novel. The only mystery here is why this is termed such.
TheBentley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Not only a good murder mystery in the hard-boiled detective tradition, but also a poignant and thoughtful meditation on memory and truth, Mr. White's Confession transcends its genre. Though parts of the book are a bit over-written (or perhaps over-wrought), that seems true to the hard-boiled style in my experience. Clark does a nice job of fleshing out the characters and giving each character a distinct voice, even if those voices are sometimes so distinctive as to seem caricatured. The particular genius of the story is its ability to drive home its philosophical point even in sections of the narrative that are simply about progressing the plot. The plot itself, in fact, is a prime example of the vagaries of memory. When, near the end of the novel, the title character calls memory "a sad thing" to have, "the hunger for what we have loved," we realize that the entire novel, down to its tiniest detail, bears out that observation.Mr. White's Confession is not to be read quickly, and readers accustomed to satisfying, quick-read, genre mysteries will likely be disappointed. The book is disturbing in many places, and while it does offer a "solution" to the mystery, it's hardly the artificial feel-good solution many genre fans have come to expect of their mysteries. This is not beach reading, but it does go far deeper than most murder mysteries out there, and probably deserves to be shelved with the literature, not the mysteries.
CKGS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Detectives Wesley and O¿Connor investigate the murder of a young dance hall girl in 1939, St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. White comes into their list of suspects while taking pictures of another dance hall girl, Ruby. Unfortunately for Herbert White, his memory is somewhat impaired and the only way he can remember what he did in the recent past is to keep a scrapbook of current events along with a journal of what he does on a daily basis.The detectives are amazed when he openly admits that he can¿t remembering killing the girl and doesn¿t think he is capable of killing someone. The detectives regard him with suspicion but don¿t have enough evidence to arrest him. Mr. White¿s Confession received an Edgar award for best novel in 1999.
goodinthestacks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unlike many of the other reviews, I found this book difficult to get in to. I thought the beginning was very slow and tedious and I did not connect to the characters nor I did care about them as the book progressed. I found the hardboiled language not convincing and the opening prayer in Latin pretentious. Just could not enjoy this book much at all.
muleson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No masterpiece by any means, but putting aside the author's over-use of "as though" and "like" (I counted 24 "as though"s and 24 "like"s in the 73 pages of Part 1), and his seemingly gratuitous references to historical world events in order to establish the story's time-period, the book did become more readable and engrossing as it progressed. The impaired memory premise of the title character was a little hard to swallow (if he had no short-term memory and could only recall what he did yesterday by reading the journals he kept, how did he remember to read his journals??), and I thought the development of all of the characters was somewhat lacking, although that may have been in keeping with the noir/hard-boiled emotional template the author was trying to follow. Some intriguing plot twists and turns, but a little more focus on character development and less on the description of minutiae and meaningless details would have contributed to better fulfillling what seemed to be the author's intent of portraying both the fragility and the resiliency of the human spirit.
juliebean on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While I usually enjoy mysteries, I found this one to be a trying read. The story is mainly about two characters, the alleged murderer, Herbert White, and the lieutenant who is working on the cases, Wesley Horner. The author attempts to develop the characters by giving them each a unique voice; we learn about White primarily through his journals and letters, while Horner is developed through conversations and action. In the end, the reader is never quite clear who is guilty, and what everyone has done. Certainly one could draw conclusions about what has happened, but it is left open to interpretation. I believe it would have been a better story if more of the loose ends were tied up in a clearer way. Of course, one could argue that the author's point was to leave much of the story unresolved, but then the reason for telling the story in the first place is unclear. While I plowed through to the end, I had little interest in finding out what happened, and was therefore even more disappointed to realize that the author wasn't going to elucidate what happened anyway.There were some elements of the story that I found jarring. Some of the brutality of the story was over-the-top. While this is characteristic of hard-boiled mysteries that can focus on the brutality of the mundane, certain elements of this story left me feeling sick to my stomach. I liked Horner, and was therefore disappointed with the way his story developed. I had very little interest in White - he was not written in a way where I came to care what happened to him - and since the bulk of the book is devoted to him, I was not impressed with the story.Other elements were annoying as well. Welshinger was not a well-developed character, so he seemed too evil to be real. The author appeared to indicate Horner's hard-boiled toughness merely by making him smoke like a fiend throughout the novel; every page seemed to talk about his smoking habits. Chandler's Marlowe smoked too, but it didn't seem to overtake the story. (The title of this book could have been "Mr. White's confession and Lieutenant Horner's smoking".)The jacket of the book talks about the "complex relationships between truth and fiction, past and present, faith and memory". Certainly a good deal of the book is devoted to those relationships, but the musings about those topics, primarily discussed in White's journals, didn't interweave well with the rest of the story. The book was decent, but overall I was not impressed, and won't be in a hurry to read anything else by this author soon.
doomjesse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is everything a good film Noir is, a story of crime and guilt of all involved. Nobody really comes out as the shining hero (The "bad guy" has memory loss, and the police go about rousing and arresting drifters). And everything seems just a little darker because of it. I hope the author continues writing this well. He can be assured I'll be buying all his future releases.
Storeetllr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It is always exciting to find a good novel by an author whose work I haven't read before, but when that author is brand new, as in this is his first novel ever, well, that's nothing short of magical."Mr. White's Confession" is sort of a cross between a Chandleresque whodunnit and a noir fictional memoir. It tells the tale of an odd-looking and -acting young man who, mostly due to his strangeness, is suspected of murdering a young, beautiful dime-a-dance girl in 1939 during the Great Depression in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is not only socially inept and odd-looking, he has a memory disability. Because of his disability ~ he can't recall middle distance events, only memories from long-ago and things that have happened in the past day ~ he keeps track of his life in journals and scrapbooks, and that makes up one part of the story. The part that focuses on the police investigation is told mostly through the eyes of the detectives, Lt. Wesley Horner, a chain-smoking, dogged, rough, but honest cop, and reads like a dime-detective novel from that era. When the story begins, the two protagonists ~ Mr. White and Lt. Horner ~ are eons apart in personality and experience, but, as the novel continues, their lives begin to parallel each other.I found Mr. White a sympathetic character, perhaps because he is also into photography, and I understood his descriptions of the photographic process and identified with his pleasure at watching an image appear from nothing. I also found his ruminations on the metaphorical aspects of photography versus memory, love, life itself, really quite astute. I also sympathized with him for the way he was looked at ~ as a freak and a creep and even a murderer ~ only because he wasn't handsome and cool-looking. Too many times people judge others by the way they look or if they aren't socially adept without ever trying to get to know them. In this case, things got way out of hand because of that blind bias.The novel was a little slow in portions, but the writing itself was so good that it was always enough to keep me going until the pace would pick up again. Toward the end, maybe the last 50 pages or so, the story got so intense that I had to force myself to just keep reading and not skip to the end to see what happened. I did sort of figure out more or less who the murderer was, although it was never 100% certain, due to the ambiguities of Mr. White's faulty memory and everyone's intentional and unintentional falsehoods. One other thing that bothered me (not about the novel but one of the issues brought up by the book) was the way the criminal justice system in effect at the time was so brutal and unfair. There were none of the checks that keep the system in line, like Miranda rights, the rights of the accused to representation and a fair trial by jury, the rights of a criminal not to be subjected to brutal, inhumane punishments, etc. While the criminal justice system today has flaws, they are nothing to what it was like back then. Some of the things that happened to some of the characters infuriated me, and I had to keep telling myself "it's only fiction," and "that was then, it's not like that anymore." Needless to say, I really enjoyed this novel and am looking forward to more from this author!
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting way the story is told. I like the insertion of the newspaper articles. The book touches on truth vs. fiction, past vs. present, as well as faith and memory.
cbl_tn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My taste in crime novels usually doesn't run to noir, but I picked this one up because of its St. Paul setting. The narrative alternates between Wesley Horner, a lonely, middle-aged St. Paul policeman, and Herbert White, an oversized amateur photographer of dance hall girls who becomes the chief suspect in the murder of two of the girls. The police in the novel don't appear to care about individual guilt or innocence. All they want is to expend the minimum amount of effort required to pin the crime on someone and close the case. Horner compromises his career when, through a series of events, he begins to care more about the truth than about closing a case.This was a difficult book for me to read, and parts of it were disturbing. (That's why I normally don't read noir.) The best parts of the book for me were the excerpts from Herbert White's journals, his musings on the nature of memory (his is impaired), and on God's nature.I frequently pass a Tennessee Bureau of Investigations building that was recently built in my local area. When the building was new, I noticed a motto in very large letters on the front of the building: That Guilt Shall Not Escape Nor Innocence Suffer. Now I look for the motto every time I pass the building. I think what I found the most troubling about this book is that innocence suffered, and it was painful to bear.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my second time reading this and I still love this book. It is startling and unusual in many respects. First the time period. Between wars. America is still fairly isolated from world affairs and we¿re still learning how to conduct our own. The harsh light of news media and litigation haven¿t rooted out police corruption on every level. Wesley is trying really hard to be one of the good guys. His isolation just echoes the country and the times. On the surface, his relationship with Maggie could be construed as somehow an abuse of his power both as a man and as a police officer, but it isn¿t. He needs Maggie on a level he doesn¿t understand and cannot admit. His inner monologue is full of things he cannot bring himself to voice. When he does show tenderness to Maggie, he is embarrassed and she is surprised. When she leaves his life, we fear for what might become of him.Which brings me to Welshinger. A more palpable villain is hard to imagine. His petty crimes and bullying behavior is typical of the period. He can get away with being this way and relishes in all the vice he is supposed to be combating. He puts Wesley in a bind several times and his greasy way of hiding his tracks and manipulating people puts him beyond reach. The whole business of taking White¿s confession and signing Wesley¿s name to it completely bound Wesley to Welshinger and kept him docile and controlled. It was sickening to read. But it paled compared to what he did to Maggie and Wesley. A diseased soul destroyed a little island of peace and happiness just because he could. His sudden ¿suicide¿ was really weird and unexpected and I still don¿t know what to make of it. Afterwards Wesley seems to be mystified by it, but who knows, it could be just him covering up the fact that he killed him. It didn¿t bring Maggie back though.And then there¿s White. An enigma if I ever saw one. My own memory problems helped me to sympathize with his, but I understood why the police thought it a very convenient affliction and used it as a prybar to get the confession from him. Welshinger saw to that; him and his amateur psychiatry. Even at the end of the my second read of this, I can¿t decide if White is guilty or not. He seemed so placid and frightened of the world and to truly like Ruby. Then again, plenty of murderers have been cut from that cloth. Then there was the fact that Welshinger had the girls¿ shoes in his car. Did he take the evidence, or did he do it?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
DADATAMAN More than 1 year ago
very well written with some unexpected twists towards the end of the book.
Story deals with faith, trust, and friendships
L.M._Elm More than 1 year ago
Clark¿s mystery set in St. Paul in the late thirties hits and misses. While the plot and setting fits together well, the characters: the hardboiled detective, the lonely waif and the seemingly innocent killer are little more than stereotypes. The final twenty pages of the novel could have been cut entirely and it still would have left me with more to ponder than the story¿s rushed conclusion.