Whitesands, by Johann Thorsson

Short Take: A captivating mix of Nordic Noir, ghost stories, and murder mysteries in Big City, USA, which is something I never thought I’d type.


(*I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.*)

Greetings Duckies!! It’s been a hectic week, and it’s shaping up to be even busier in the days ahead, so let’s dive right in, shall we?

In Whitesands, Detective John Dark is, to put it mildly, Not Doing Well. His daughter Emily has been missing for two years, and despite his willingness to Break Every Rule in his desperate search, there’s been no movement in her case. His wife and son barely speak to him, and professionally, he’s all but frozen out of the force.

That is, until a very strange murder occurs. A husband has stabbed his wife to death (I know, that’s not the strange part, just stay with me) and arranged her body in a bizarre, ritualistic fashion. The thing is, the guy swears he didn’t do it, despite irrefutable evidence. Of course, they all say that, so hubby goes in the clink, case closed, until a very similar murder happens across town – wife dead, husband crying innocent despite airtight evidence, surrealist staging of the corpse.

Although John Dark is a brilliant detective, his knotty personal life means that he’s damaged goods in the eyes of both his colleagues and himself. His confidence is shot, his coworkers don’t put a lot of stock in his findings, and well… unbreakable evidence. Needless to say, there is More Than Meets The Eye with these murders. 

Although the plot is a lot of fun, and kept me guessing for some time, my real joy in this one is Mr. Thorsson’s style. It swings from hard-boiled detective narrative, complete with short choppy sentences and a world-weary outlook, to lyrical, even poetic prose, and somehow, none of it feels out of place. 

I should add that I was expecting Whitesands to lean more heavily toward the Nordic Noir end of the book pool. I have read a lot of NN books in my day, but to me, they tend to be hit or miss – so many descriptions of icy weather, or coffee and cheese sandwich meals, or names with like 6 consonants in a row just shuts me down. But Mr. Thorsson opted to set his book squarely in the good old US of A, which allowed me to connect with it more, and also gave him the chance to weigh in on some current social issues.

This is a tricky bit to review, because although the author is not WRONG in what he observes and discusses about this country (he actually hits it pretty dead-on), I didn’t always like the way he went about it. Some of his points, although valid and correct, felt like they were shoehorned in just to make those points, without really adding anything to the story or serving any real purpose other than a soapbox.

I also feel like the author would have benefited from a cranky editor with a big red pen. There were some silly contradictions, like a character saying “I’ve got the file on Alice Whitacre here” and then a few paragraphs later asking “Alice Woodacre, right?” while still holding the file folder with the correct name on it. There were also a few cases of switching he/she pronouns randomly, or using the wrong word with things like palate/palette, that kind of thing. Those things are absolutely not dealbreakers, but they can be distracting. 

I have to give it to the author on one major personal pet peeve. Mr. Thorsson was able to do the nearly-impossible: Write the first book in a series in a way that it both has a satisfying ending, AND leaves enough open that sequels would make sense. If you’ve read my reviews of other series-kickoffs, you’ll know how picky I am about those.

The Nerd’s Rating: FOUR HAPPY NEURONS (and some hideous police station coffee, I still have a lot to do and my hiney is dragging.)

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