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Mr. White's Confession

3.38  ·  Rating details ·  585 ratings  ·  83 reviews
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 s
Paperback, 360 pages
Published October 29th 1999 by Picador (first published December 31st 1998)
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Average rating 3.38  · 
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 ·  585 ratings  ·  83 reviews

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Sep 03, 2008 rated it liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Thomas L Foster
Dec 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I'm still thinking of how I feel about this book, and I want to give it four stars but the ending leaves too many loose ends that I can't resolve even by writing my own ending for some of the characters. I don't want this to be a spoiler because I think it's a story worth reading, but just be prepared for something different than what you might expect, keep an open mind and enjoy the writing. The other reviews are mixed and the criticism is also mostly about the ending, but we are so accustomed ...more
Oct 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Full review to come.
Mar 25, 2009 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 29, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
Good effort and interesting story set in St. Paul.
Beans & Reads
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Where I found this book:
In a neighborhood "free little library" book box.

What I thought of this book:
What a fantastic, enthralling read that kept my interest piqued from the first page to the last. I must find out about other works this author has written! No wonder this book was an award winner - deep, engaging, twisting and turning - a satisfying read. Five stars.
Therese Dotray-Tulloch
Very difficult novel to read especially up at the cabin in the beautiful north woods due to the cruelty and violence and ugliness in the police department. Set in St. Paul in 1939, we meet the downtrodden and poor and mentally handicapped who are all at the mercy of an evil, corrupt policeman.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Not an easy read and was tempted to stop reading the book several times. The material was depressing at times with an innocent man being framed and jailed for the murders and the parallel storyline of the lead detective who was massively lonely which leads one to question who exactly was behind bars? We can be living freely out in society among people and be living behind our own set of bars. Story itself had a beauty in the way it was told from a vintagy, old Woolworth, old New York City a la A ...more
Jack Heath
Nov 09, 2018 marked it as to-read
Synopsis: St. Paul Minn 1939. The body of a dance girl is found and Lt. Wesley Horner heads the investigation. Is White's confession the truth?
Feb 14, 2016 rated it it was ok
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 rated it really liked it
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
Alison Kelley
Jan 24, 2011 rated it liked it
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 25, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 05, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 02, 2011 rated it liked it
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.
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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?"

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