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Mr. White's Confession

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  509 Ratings  ·  76 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 i
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 2nd 2008 by Picador (first published 1998)
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Community Reviews

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Sep 03, 2008 Becca rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a very mixed book. On the one hand, Clark is stunningly good with a metaphor. There were some places where the writing in this book really blew me away. It's a full step above mystery novels generally, and it usually doesn't feel too pretentious either. Clark captures the feel of an old school noir mystery. I also love the idea of including the suspect's journal (although the "memory problems" are a little contrived}and Mr. White is a sympathetic and likable character despite being so w ...more
This is an edited review written seven months after I read the book. In my first review, I did not think highly of this book. I said it was unsatisfying on many levels. However, several months later (helped I admit by a trip to St. Paul and seeing the key locations), this book sticks with me, so I picked it up again. I did not reread the whole thing, but I reread passages. And I change my ranking (the least useful part of any review) from two to three stars. I can't give it higher marks, but it ...more
Trixie Fontaine
LOVE this book; it's so much more than I expected. And I'm just the kind of person who loves a character like Mr. White.

Managed to be urgently suspenseful AND explore philosophical issues in an accessible way that only got tiresome for a few paragraphs (for me) and well after I was deeply into it, thinking it's "just" going to be an entertaining crime novel. You wade into it gradually (at least I did, maybe because I didn't expect to be led into any deep water, thinking it was just kind of endea
Apr 11, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Did he or didn’t he? Did hapless, memory-challenged Herbert White murder two of the dance hall girls that he worshipfully photographed in his rooms, or is he a perfect patsy - a sacrificial lamb doomed to suffer for another’s crimes? That is the question that pulls you into Clark’s evocative psychological suspense, a question that Mr. White himself could not tell you the answer to. Once immersed in Clark’s evocative depression era Midwest, a hard-edged world through which innocent and guilty ali ...more
Todd Berger
Apr 23, 2014 Todd Berger rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written book set in the first half of the twentieth century, largely in St. Paul, Minnesota. Explores the validity of confessions, the sensationalism of media, and how our society latches onto lurid half facts and catchphrases created by the media that endure for many years.
Mar 25, 2009 Marsha rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 04, 2012 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
I really enjoyed most of this book. Several dance club girls are found murdered in St Paul, Minnesota in 1939. The main suspect is an eccentric and simple minded man named Herbert White. Herbert’s hobbies are photography, writing in his journal, scrapbooking and visiting the dance club girls. He has trouble with his memory and tries to write everything down to help him remember his daily activities. The journal is very entertaining to read and his thoughts when written on paper contradict his ac ...more
Dec 29, 2008 Sidney rated it really liked it
While it's an Edgar Winner, Mr. White's Confession, is much more than a mystery novel. It follows a deeply depressed police detective and Mr. White, a man with no short term memory, through a grim 1939 landscape. Mr. White is unsure whether he's responsible for the deaths of two dime-a-dance taxi dancers, and he is more concerned with his quest for his own identity and memory.

Nothing is quite what you expect it to be in this book, an excellent work, especially for thoughtful readers.
Aaron Guest
Aug 29, 2012 Aaron Guest rated it it was amazing
Shelves: mfa, 2012
I'm not sure how I feel about this book's last section. But until that point I was entranced, ensconced (wrapped up In scone, if you will). I will read this again someday. I will be affected by the startling imagery, setting, and metaphor. As with Robert's novels, I won't forget them and they will linger for a long, long while. But the ending bothers me. It really does. Still, my favorite of his novels.
Rod Zemke
May 28, 2010 Rod Zemke rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good effort and interesting story set in St. Paul.
Dec 08, 2016 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Joy Douglas Strome
If Dashiell Hammett raised the orphaned child of Thornton Wilder and Marcel Proust (with some occasional baby-sitting by godmother Marilynne Robinson), this book would be the result.

I really, really enjoyed it and saw much of the things other reviews here complain about to be some of its primary strengths. What some seem to find cliche or two-dimensional, I saw as ingeniously manipulated tropes, re-fashioned from familiar forms toward exquisitely fresh ends.

I have rarely found myself so intima
Feb 14, 2016 Holly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful young dancer is found dead on a hillside in the fall of 1939. Detective Wesley Horner and his partner are the detectives assigned to the case. Her shoes are missing, and there was some sexual trauma. Based on a tip from a reader of the local paper who lived in the area, the detectives begin to suspect Mr. Herbert White, a large rotund man in his middle thirties who struggles with mid-term memory. Mr. White keeps a scrapbook and journal where he records his daily activities and of cur ...more
Feb 22, 2011 Kirstie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was interesting...mainly delving into the corruption of the police in the 1940s era and it develops a story of murder and intelligence both. I think it's well crafted with a likable victim who has a hidden eloquence despite his limited life experience in many areas. At the same time, it's not the kind of novel that is life changing..just an enjoyable read overall. I especially loved the parts about photography and the protagonist is a very likable can't help feeling sorry ...more
There were two things that made me give this book a lower rating:
1. The story went in a direction that I found both disappointing and distressing. Usually I would not lower a rating because I disagreed with the author on how he created his creation. But my disappointment was acute and ruined what had been a promising story, for me.
2. Boredom with the philosophizing that goes on through Mr. White's mind after he is put in prison. I was so tempted to skim. Really the book ended for me by Christmas
Jul 25, 2011 Athena rated it it was ok
I honestly didn't know what to think of this book. On one hand it was very well thought out and written, almost brilliant, but on the other hand it moved extremely slow and the point of the book seemed to drown in all the drama. The author's precision with details of a time after the stock market crash is impervious; the homeless people living down by a river, the food characters ate, the clothing worn, the appliances, everything was described perfectly. Herbert White is a clerk who was born wit ...more
Jan 24, 2011 Alison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who likes the 1930's era
This book was more a character study than a mystery novel. Exploring Herbert White's and Wesley Horner's thoughts and inner feelings was clearly the author's main intent, while the "mystery" was a plot device. The villain was hardly hidden from the readers, and the main reason for turning the page was to discover what Wesley would do with the little knowledge he had.

I most enjoyed the 1930's setting, including the slang and expressions ("cheesecake", "right as rain"). It always seems to me that
Jul 05, 2016 Margaret rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-tbr
3.5 stars.

I almost gave this 4 stars, but it just fell a bit short somehow. The author has some very interesting ideas and creates a disquieting, noir atmosphere throughout. The eponymous Mr. White is a tragic, moving, creepy character who gets caught up in events that he is unable to influence. The second protagonist is a weak, flawed detective who knows that White is innocent of the crimes for which he is convicted, but he is either too lazy or too powerless to fight the political forces that
Murder mysteries can be disturbing due to the murder in the story. This murder mystery is disturbing because of the travesty of justice subsequent to the murder. The story is set in 1939 in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. White is an innocuous man in his 30s who has a hobby of taking pictures of pretty dance hall girls. When one and then two of these dance hall girls are murdered circumstantial evidence leads to Mr. White's arrest, confession, conviction, and imprisonment. Now Mr. White suffers from a ...more
Jennifer  Sciolino-Moore
May 31, 2013 Jennifer Sciolino-Moore marked it as to-read
3.5 stars again. The rating that I give to books that I enjoyed reading, and would recommend as a good beach read, but that just sort of failed to blow me away.
Our hapless protagonist, Herbert White is a modest, old-fashioned gentleman out of place in a world of lascivious actions and base moral code. He is living with short-term memory problems (think Memento) and has overcome this by keeping meticulous scrapbooks of newspaper clippings and journals. He works a menial day job and comes home to
Dec 17, 2009 Stven rated it liked it
Recommended to Stven by: Edgar Award
Five minutes into this, I was thinking, do I really have to read one more story about a mentally impaired guy who gets framed for somebody else's crime? And the answer was yes, I really did have to. It got better as it went along, and I think I'd have liked it better if I hadn't thought when I started it that it was a mystery novel. Why it got the Edgar Award for novel of the year is a genuine puzzle, but I admit that's probably what tipped me over into giving the book a try. It's a better novel ...more
Nov 27, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My biggest criteria for a good book is that it has to make you ask questions and extrapolate them from the book to the real world. This book makes you ask questions, and mystery novels make you ask questions, but this isn't a mystery novel.

Solving crimes is an essential part of the book, but it isn't the most important part. Clark doesn't try to protect the mysteries of the story because he isn't worried that the story falls apart and loses its value as soon as the mystery is revealed, because
Dana Jennings
I bought ten hardback books and one softcover book from the Annual Wake County Libraries Book Sale yesterday. Bought this one primarily because it was Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel and Winner of the PNBA Best Fiction Book of the Year in 1999. This is the first one of that lot that I read - 341 pages between last night and this morning. Very well crafted. Clark uses the style of hard-boiled pulp fiction when writing about the investigating detective, Wesley, and recounts the thoughts of the c ...more
Feb 02, 2011 Kwoomac rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, mystery
Now that I think about it, this book was very similar to The Green Mile but without the supernatural overtones. Cop reviews his involvement in imprisoning Mr. White for the brutal murder of some prostitutes. Of course, Mr. White didn't commit the crimes (another cop did, who later took his own life) but he likes the routine of prison life. Mr White is very simple and doesn't know or really care if he committed the crimes. In the Green Mile, Coffey didn't kill the little girl but he is ready to d ...more
K.B. Hallman
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I just picked this book off my shelf today, having read it nine years ago, and ended up flipping through it for an hour or so. I remember really liking it, really liking the mood and some of the sentences, and there were a couple of particular passages which I remembered as having a distinct power but which I was unable to find this time around. In my memory, I knew exactly where they were in the book and had some idea of what sort of feeling they created, but today I could not find them. Or I f ...more
Nov 01, 2015 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mr. White is a simple man with a memory problem, in that he does not have short-term memory. He journals to keep a record of things going on in his life and the world. He is a very odd character but I enjoyed reading the journals which are a big part of the story.

It was an interesting book and had promise but there were a few things I either found annoying, inconsistent, or unlikely. One main thing was that the memory issues are inconsistent, at times Mr. White can remember things and other time
Jan 19, 2008 Jeff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a surprisingly good novel. It was one of many I received in a package of used books, and as the others had been so bad, I had low expectations for this one.

However, it definitely snuck on me as great writing. Set originally as following the murder one woman in Minnesota in the 1930's, the story morphs into a series of reflections by the author on life, and specifically love and beauty in life. I found myself to be very sympathetic to the characters in the book, to be somewhat moved by s
Dick Edwards
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Jespers
A great sense of the profound nature of the human condition arises out of otherwise simple circumstances. Clark does the same in In the Deep Midwinter, perhaps better there than here. I like his books—mysteries unraveling—without being predictable sort of whodunits. Leaves the reader with questions to ponder about our humanity. (Why does W. commit suicide? I guess because Maggie does not die. She might tell on him, so he checks out? I’m still not sure.)
May 03, 2012 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting if a little stretched premise of a man who can remember the distant past but not the more recent. He can remember what happened today and maybe yesterday but then things get foggy. He's a nebish living in St. Paul in 1939. This book has the trappings of an old hard boiled detective piece but takes strange turns. The main character gets accused of gruesome murders and in the time before Miranda this is not a good thing. A quick read and a good one.
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Robert Clark is a novelist and writer of nonfiction. He received the Edgar Award for his novel Mr. White's Confession in 1999. A native of St. Paul, Minneapolis, he lives in Seattle with his wife and two children.

Clark's books touch on several genres but often return to questions centered in God: "Is there a God? Does he love us? Is he even paying attention?"
More about Robert Clark...

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