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Book review: A vivid depiction of the regional and emotional landscapes of the rural Midwest

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pickard county atlas

“Pickard County Atlas” by Chris Harding Thornton, MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021, 277 pages, $27

“Pickard County Atlas,” the debut novel from Chris Harding Thornton, at first seems to be a rural variation of a classic noir, but it slowly turns into something much closer to classical tragedy.

“Noir” – it means “black” in French – is a literary genre that is often difficult to define. Some confuse it with the hardboiled detective fiction of Raymond Chandler (think Philip Marlowe in “The Big Sleep”) and Dashiell Hammett (think Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon”). But in those works, there’s at least someone with a sense of right and wrong, however threadbare it might be.