Pickard County Atlas (Hardcover)

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Finalist for the Heartland Booksellers Award

In a dusty town in Nebraska’s rugged sandhills, weary sheriff’s deputy Harley Jensen patrols the streets at night, on the lookout for something―anything―out of the ordinary. It’s July 1978, and the heat is making people ornery, restless. That and the Reddick family patriarch has decided, decades after authorities ended the search for his murdered boy’s body, to lay a headstone. Instead of bringing closure, this decision is the spark that threatens to set Pickard County ablaze.

On a fateful night after the memorial service, Harley tails the youngest Reddick and town miscreant, Paul, through the abandoned farms and homes outside their run-down town. The pursuit puts Harley in the path of Pam Reddick, a restless young woman looking for escape, bent on cutting the ties of motherhood and marriage. Filled with desperate frustration, Pam is drawn to Harley’s dark history, not unlike that of her husband, Rick―a man raised in the wreckage of a brother’s violent death and a mother’s hardened fury.

Unfolding over six tense days, Pickard County Atlas sets Harley and the Reddicks on a collision course―propelling them toward an incendiary moment that will either redeem or end them. Engrossing, darkly funny, and real, Chris Harding Thornton’s debut rings with authenticity and a nuanced sense of place even as it hums with menace, introducing an astonishing new voice in suspense.

MCD: January 5, 2021 | Hardcover: 288 pages

This book is also available in paperback in "Clearance" on our website.


About the Author

Chris Harding Thornton, a seventh-generation Nebraskan, holds an MFA from the University of Washington and a PhD from the University of Nebraska, where she currently teaches. She has worked as a quality assurance overseer at a condom factory, a jar-lid screwer at a plastics plant, a closer at Burger King, a record store clerk, an all-ages club manager, and a PR writer. Pickard County Atlas is her first novel.


"An atmospheric, slow-burning beauty of a book, rich with raw-edged lyricism and achingly real characters." Tana French, author of The Searcher

"Thornton has skillfully created a hyper-detailed setting of the Nebraska plains, a landscape of empty farmhouses lined with the windbreak, described right down to the native plants . . . A gripping mixture of cop procedural and a psychological story of rebirth that gives one man the chance at leaving his past behind."   ―Sheila McClear, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"[An] atmospheric debut thriller . . . The taut plot . . . culminates in an incendiary sequence that pits prolonged anguish against the need for new beginnings." The New Yorker

"A remarkable achievement. Chris Harding Thornton reveals the soul of a region and a people haunted by the past and with only desperate hopes for the future. On every page is a detail so authentic, or an image so vivid that readers will want to pause in appreciation. An amazing debut from an author who knows her little postage stamp of Nebraska soil as well as Faulkner knew Yoknapatawpha county."
―Larry Watson, author of As Good As Gone

"Dark and brilliant . . . Thornton's expert prose and turns of phrase beg for repeat reading and the character work is full of depth and detail that astonish; a dazzling display of literary prowess."
―Lauren O'Brien, Shelf Awareness

"Thornton is unrelenting in conveying the bleak realities of her closely watched characters: their dangerous misconceptions, their “hostile indifference,” their cat-and-mouse games almost sure to turn deadly." ―Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

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