I won’t call Tim Johnston an outstanding writer of thrillers. He’s an outstanding writer. No qualifications are needed, and thriller fans reap the rewards. I've heard that Descent is great, I know that The Current is exceptional, and now Distant Sons joins the list. The dialogue feels true, the settings are finely developed, and the immersive story is intense without trying to be spectacular. Perfect for me. The characters bring their world to us fully and show the humanity we see in ourselves. Three young boys disappeared with barely a clue in the middle 1970s from a single Wisconsin town near the Mississippi River, and the suspicion about one young man back then lives on now into his old age. Forty years after the boys went missing, Sean Courtland and Dan Young are two skilled tradesmen on the road finding work and getting away from their own past lives. In this small river town, they’re about to find more than work… and that more is resolved but still haunting me.— Tim McCarthy
Sean and Dan are wandering carpenters, taking jobs where and when they want. They meet in a small Wisconsin town that's still haunted by the disappearance of three 10-year-old boys over consecutive summers in the 1970s. Sean takes a job with an unfriendly recluse. The job is bigger than he expected so he hires Dan to help. The two learn about the long-ago murders and the suspected, but never proven, serial killer: Devereaux — the very man they are working for. The story slips easily between the past and present and slams into full thriller mode after a dramatic turn of events. You’ll be speed reading to the end.— Kay Wosewick
The paths of two young men collide and spark unexpected violence in a Wisconsin town where three boys went missing in the 1970s in this "intricate, haunting novel" (Michael Koryta, author of An Honest Man).
What if Sean Courtland’s old Chevy truck had broken down somewhere else? What if he’d never met Denise Givens, a waitress at a local tavern, and gotten into a bar fight defending her honor? Or offered a ride to Dan Young, another young man like Sean, burdened by secrets and just drifting through the small Wisconsin town?
Instead, Sean enlists Dan’s help with a construction job in the basement of a local—the elderly, reclusive Marion Devereaux—and gradually the two men come to realize that they’ve washed up in a place haunted by the disappearance of three young boys decades earlier. As Sean and Dan’s friendship deepens, and as Sean gets closer to Denise and her father, they come to the attention of a savvy local detective, Corrine Viegas, who has her own reasons for digging into Dan’s past—and for being unable to resist the pull of the town’s unsolved mystery. And with each chance connection, an irreversible chain of events is set in motion that culminates in shattering violence and the revelation of long-buried truths.
Gripping and immersive, this crime novel by bestselling author Tim Johnston becomes so much more: a book about friendship and love and good hard work—and a masterful read about how the most random intersection of lives can have consequences both devastating and beautiful.
About the Author
Tim Johnston is the author of the novels Descent, The Current, the story collection Irish Girl, and the young adult novel Never So Green. He holds degrees from the University of Iowa and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the recipient of the 2015 Iowa Author Award and currently lives in Iowa City, Iowa.
Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall 2023 by Kirkus Reviews, Novel Suspects, The Rap Sheet, & Thoughts From A Page Podcast
"Distant Sons is a mystery about a serial killer, yes, but it’s also not that at all: It’s a heartbreaking story about family, failure, and the fallout from violence. Tim Johnston has crafted a riveting novel that takes us into struggling blue collar America, and locates the hope hidden inside devastating loss. A beautiful book."
—Janelle Brown, bestselling author of Pretty Things
“Tim Johnston has once again raised the bar for the literary thriller. Distant Sons is elegant and edgy, refined and complex. It excavates the truth from the darkest recesses of the past and shines a light towards the possibility of a redemptive future.”—Ivy Pochoda, author of These Women and Sing Her Down
"Tim Johnston returns in dazzling form with DISTANT SONS, an intricate, haunting novel sure to resonate with fans of Dennis Lehane, Peter Heller, and James Lee Burke. Johnston's plot is tense and his pacing swift, but he's after bigger game here, with questions of identity, intentions, and legacies merging in a tale that will linger long after it is finished. He's also one of the finest prose stylists in the game, stacking polished sentences with a master's touch. Don't miss this one." —Michael Koryta, New York Times bestselling author of An Honest Man
"Tim Johnston’s Distant Sons is the kind of novel that inspires writers like me to want to step up our game. His prose is both elegant and raw, with characters so real you want to sit down and have a beer with them. Mr. Johnston is a writer with a gift, and if you haven’t had the pleasure to read him, I highly recommend picking up this book."—Allen Eskens, bestselling author of The Life We Bury and Forsaken Country
"This book kept me up at night. Eerie, unsettling, and addictive."—Ash Davidson, author of Damnation Spring
“The secrets run deep in the eloquent crime novel… a moving tale of friendship, attraction and long-term loss, told with quiet grace and emotional precision.”—Washington Post
“Complex characters and a slow-burning plot distinguish this literary thriller about a Wisconsin town’s unsolved mystery and the outsider who uncovers buried truths.”—People
“[E]loquent and riveting… Johnston expertly crisscrosses these lives in a poignant novel that is both character-driven and action-packed.”—Shelf Awareness
"[An] exceptional whodunit… Johnston is a talented and intelligent writer… This Tim Johnston fellow, he’s the good stuff."—Washington Independent Review of Books
“[A] suspenseful route through the emotions and changes of sons and fathers… a revelation about the cost and sometimes benefit of being flawed humans who care about others and struggle to find a way forward. That’s easily twice as good as a simple crime novel.”—New York Journal of Books
“Johnston brings the same attention to his novels that he does to his carpentry... a patient focus on the little things that matter, whether he’s describing a chair in an interrogation room or plumbing the depths of a character’s heart.”—The Capital Times
"Set in struggling blue-collar America, Johnston's newest novel, Distant Sons, will strike a chord with fans of Peter Heller, Liz Moore and Cormac McCarthy."—Columbus Dispatch
“Richly satisfying... Three-dimensional characters and a multilayered—though not overly complex—plot make this small-town saga sing. Johnston continues to impress.”—Publishers Weekly
“An exceptional novel."—Library Journal
“A slow-burn novel that quietly elevates the fragile codes of honorable men.”—Kirkus Reviews
"[A] wonderfully told story. Johnston had me fully invested... He masterfully wove together two distinct timelines and two completely different stories into one seamless gem of a novel that I highly recommend."—Novel Visits
“[S]hocking, beautiful and captivating.”—SheReads
“Tim’s writing — lovely, smart, dark — reminds me a bit of Peter Heller, Dennis Lehane, and Ivy Pochoda..."—Blood & Whiskey (Neal Thompson Substack)