Book Review: Pickard County Atlas by Chris Harding Thornton

Small-town secrets loom large in Chris Harding Thornton's debut Pickard County Atlas where the aftershocks of crime and trauma shake a Nebraskan town.

Pickard County Atlas

Chris Harding Thornton

January 5, 2021

Chris Harding Thornton leaves quite an impression with her debut thriller entitled Pickard County Atlas. I saw it listed under the genre Noir Thriller, but I believe this work deserves a genre all its’ own—Nebraska Noir.

Set within the parameters of Pickard County, Nebraska, this novel juggles a handful of characters all of whom interact and by the end of the novel threaten to combust. The action takes place in six days and begins with Officer Harley Jensen on patrol one evening when he comes across a vehicle parked by the house, he grew up in. Now abandoned, the old home has become a target for bored teenagers to get drunk in and cause various forms of destruction.

This time it is not a bunch of teens but the youngest of the Reddick family, Paul, who has become an infamous thorn in Harley’s side. Paul is with a young lady who does not give her identity and, of course, there are drugs in the car. Harley decides it is not worth the trouble and gets Paul Reddick to just leave, but not before providing an earful to Officer Harley that includes several jabs about one of his older siblings who went missing eighteen years prior and was never found by the police or anyone else in Pickard County.

Harley’s boss, Sheriff Glenn Cox, constantly reminds him that he needs to get over his fixation with the Reddick boy and tries to keep him focused. Harley yeses him away knowing that Glenn has his own issues and probably should just retire. Another soul trapped in Pickard County is Pam Reddick who is in a mostly loveless marriage to Paul’s brother Rick. They have a toddler named Anna who Pam does not really want and has trouble getting attached to. Pam would love a way out but just cannot see past the front door of her beat-up trailer and her own family is completely useless to her.

Paul and Rick are doing jobs for their father, mostly roof work and remodeling—with a little drug dealing on the side. There also has been a small rash of arson in the county and Harley Jensen would love to pin that on the Reddick’s. What makes it even more ironic is that Paul and Rick’s mother has never been the same since the loss of her boy Dell Junior eighteen years earlier and was found by the Sheriff one evening starting a bonfire in her trashcan while completely naked.  

Paul spends the night in jail for a drunk and disorderly, brought in of course by Officer Jensen, and is picked up from the drunk tank the next day by Pam since no one else was available. This causes a tragic misunderstanding whereby Rick believes his wife Pam is sleeping with his own brother because he smelled Paul’s scent on their bed. Funny enough, Pam had only let Paul sleep his drunk off on their bed while she has just started an affair with none other than Harley Jensen.


It is easy to say that a novel is a ‘one-sit read’, but in the case of Pickard County Atlas I would not be far from the truth.


With these characters all following each other around Pickard County for one reason or another it is just a matter of time until they all catch up. When that happens, things may never be the same for any of them. It is easy to say that a novel is a ‘one-sit read’, but in the case of Pickard County Atlas I would not be far from the truth. The writing is so easy-going and fluid—I imagine just like life in Nebraska—yet it carries with it all the earmarks of great noir and becomes an instant literary classic. I cannot wait to see what Chris Harding Thornton has in store for us next!

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