Synopses & Reviews
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.
St. Paul, Minnesota, 1939. Lieutenant Wesley Horner is heading a police investigation into the brutal murder of a beautiful showgirl. His chief suspect is Herbert White an eccentric recluse and hobby photographer who spends his days writing gushing fan letters to Hollywood starlets and, recording his life in detailed journal entries and scrapbooks.
Then another dancer is found murdered, and the clues point once again to Herbert White. In his extraordinary second novel, Robert Clark examines the inner worlds of two very different men and the women in their lives. He illuminates the complex relationships between truth and fiction, past and present, while exploring the nature of faith and memory.
St. Paul, Minnesota, 1939. The body of a beautiful dime-a-dance girl is found on a hillside, and Police Lieutenant Wesley Horner, struggling and alone after his wife's recent death, heads the investigation into her murder. His chief suspect is Herbert White, an eccentric recluse and hobby photographer who spends his days recording his life in detailed journal entries and scrapbooks. In Mr. White's Confession, Robert Clark illuminates the complex relationships between truth and fiction, past and present, faith and memory. Mr. White's Confession is the winner of the 1999 Edgar Award for Best Novel.
About the Author
is the author of the novel In the Deep Midwinter
and River of the West, a cultural history of the Columbia River (both Picador), and The Solace of Food
, a biography of James Beard. A native of St. Paul, Minnesota, he lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.
Reading Group Guide
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 Nannas 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. Whites Confession is in many respects an examination of good and evil. In Herberts world, what form does evil take? How does his understanding of it differ from Wesleys? From Maggies? 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 Wesleys life? How does Ruby affect Herbert? What is the importance of Herberts "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 Herberts perception of his past formed him? How does Herberts 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 Whites 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 Whites 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 Horners sections of the novel using the conventions of hard-boiled, pulp fiction. How does this technique fit with Wesleys 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 doesnt think about God as intensely as Herbert does, he does experience a rebirth of faith? How does that come about?