Cover Image: Distant Sons

Distant Sons

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Member Reviews

Sean and Dan end up in the same town by coincidence and find work renovating a local elderly man's house. As they work on the man's house, they find out he was the main suspect in the disappearance of three boys decades prior. Every character has their own past and secrets they're holding onto but as Detective Corrine delves into the boy's case again, she might finally reveal what happened. Overall, a slow paced story set in a small town that is less mystery and more about the interactions of the characters.

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Thank you Netgalley. This was a bit of a slow burn but well worth the wait. The characters were some of the best I've read in a while. The story was a bit slow but still full of mystery. The writing itself is excellent and very atmospheric.

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DNF 48%.

This is the first DNF for me in a long time. The writing was good and I could see the story was interesting but it was too slow for me. The different timelines may have paid off in the end but I couldn't make it. I read half the story and can't really summarize what it is about. Others seem to like it a bit but it wasn't for me and with a bunch of other books I am excited for, I decided to move on.

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Sean Courtland has no idea the turn his life is going to take after his Chevy truck breaks down on the side of a road in Wisconsin but it is anything but dull.
I really liked the characters Sean, Dan and Denise who are all just trying to do the right thing and live their lives the best they know how.
My only complaint is that there are two mysteries going on and one detracted from the other.
I will definitely read more of Tim Johnston's books. I really enjoyed this one.

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Another fantastic book by Tim Johnston. I love how atmospheric his writing is. I loved the way the stories of these two young men came together—couldn’t put it down.

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Published by Algonquin Books on October 17, 2023

Distant Sons is the story of two young men following the same path, men who meet by coincidence or fate. They are both on the move, both trying but failing to leave their pasts behind, both uncertain they should allow that choice to be dictated by others. The crimes that underlie the plot — three boys who went missing forty years earlier, a women who has been dead ten years — lurk in the background, but the story’s suspense surrounds the choices the young men will make as they move forward with lives that have suddenly intertwined.

Sean Courtland is a carpenter. He has driven into Wisconsin from Minnesota when his car overheats. A man who gives him a ride to a mechanic tells him about an old man named Devereaux who needs a carpenter. Devereaux wants to build a first-floor laundry room because he’s become too old to walk up and down the basement stairs.

Sean gives Devereaux a call. He takes the job despite rumors that connect Devereaux to three boys who disappeared forty years earlier. Sean expects the project to take about a week but realizes he might need to help to get it done within that time frame.

Sean offers a ride to a young man named Dan Young. They chat a bit and Sean offers Dan a job helping with the plumbing on the Devereaux job. Dan left his truck in Minnesota after someone put a bullet hole in it. Dan is suspected of causing a woman’s death ten years earlier. The suspicion is probably unfounded, but who knows?

Dan notices something odd about the carpentry in the basement. Sean has noticed that Devereaux’s dog whines whenever someone goes into the basement. While this isn’t a supernatural thriller, Dan has visions that make him wonder whether Devereaux or his creepy uncle or both are responsible for crimes that have long gone unsolved.

Setting aside ancient crimes, Sean intercedes when he sees Blaine Mattis bothering Denise Givens, a waitress in a tavern where Sean has been eating his meals. Sean accidently smacks Denise’s face she he tries to punch Blaine but Denise tells the investigating officer that the blow was accidental. Sean ends up dating Denise and even does a small home renovation that will help her father navigate his wheelchair through a doorway. Denise gets a restraining order against Blaine but he isn’t the kind of guy who cares.

Distant Sons unfolds over the course of an eventful week. It is a bad week for both Sean and Dan, arguably a bad week for everyone whose lives intersect theirs. While Sean blames himself for being a harbinger of doom, Denise’s father reminds Sean of Shakespeare's observation about “wills and fates” that “contrary run.” Maybe Sean made life worse for some by coming to the small Wisconsin town where he meets Dan and Denise, but maybe he made life better for others. In the end, balancing good and bad is beyond Sean’s power. He can only do what he thinks is right and hope for the best.

Tim Johnston captures the quiet eloquence of capable men who feel deeply but say little, men who don’t vocalize their thoughts unless the effort of expression seems worthwhile. The mystery of the missing boys is ultimately resolved, but this isn’t a story about heroic efforts leading to a serial killer’s capture. It is a simpler story of people poking around the edges of mysteries, people whose lives are at risk for reasons they cannot reasonably anticipate. It is a powerful and surprising story of fates that run contrary to wills.


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I had read Descent by this author and it was a very good book, so I went into this one thinking it too would be a good book, and it was, just a bit long at times, but still enjoyable. Sean Courtland is passing through a small Wisconsin town when his truck breaks down, as he's looking at the engine another driver stops and provides assistance in the manner of a place to get it fixed and the name of a person who's looking for someone to do some work for him. Sean accepts both offers and meets with Marion Devereaux to find out what he wants done, turns out he's an older fellow and wants a room modified and the washer/dryer moved into the room. They agree on a price and Sean starts work. After work he's in a local bar and after a waitress is harassed by (it turns out) her boyfriend, he decides to defend her honor and ends up accidently hitting her. Sean meets Dan Young another young fellow who he talks into helping him with the job he's doing, Dan agrees. These individuals set the scene for all that happens after, the whole 'what if I didn't stop in this town' is Sean's mantra after all is said and done. There are flashbacks to a period of time in the 70's where 3 young boys go missing, Marion is the prime suspect in their disappearances, but the police can find no evidence to pursue charges. A very good book which I would highly recommend. Thanks to #Netgalley and #Algonquin Books for the ARC.

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Distant Sons is filled with mystery. Tim Johnston gives us many mysteries in this book. I think the book would have been better with one less mystery. So many tales going on involving one individual was just too much. I think Johnston could have separated the two main mysteries and made a better book.

I loved the mystery and friendship of Sean and Dan. I think this could have made an excellent duology. Their chemistry was amazing. I just loved them together. Johnston writes a good mystery and I liked each of them individually. It was just really busy.

Johnston covers a multitude of issues in Distant Sons. The editing is done well. It took me a bit to get through the book because it was just a lot of information to track and it didn’t really keep me engaged. Read it and tell me what you think.

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I think Tim Johnston is a very good writer. This one had a slow-burn plot with great character development. I feel like he is similar to Ivan Doig in his storytelling, just in a more modern setting. Recommended.

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Sean never expected his humble life to have much impact, until it suddenly does.

Sean never intended to spend any time in the small Wisconsin town where his truck breaks down. But he goes where he finds work, so when he’s offered a job along with a ride, it’s worth his time to stick around and finish once his truck is fixed.

Likewise, Detective Corrine Viegas never expects much to happen in the small town where she works, until a few people new to town keep popping up where she least expects them. Everyone in this novel has a past that may not be common knowledge, and most are content to keep their stories to themselves indefinitely.

The unassuming characters in this story had their own histories and lives. While their secrets may not have been secrets intentionally, once they were discovered, they were life-changing for others. The book was not generally action-packed, but once a reader becomes engaged with the characters, no one could resist the urge to get to the end and find out how it all connects.

This story earned 3 out of 5 stars. The nostalgia of the stories still re-told around town from the 1970s was heartfelt and realistic. Anyone who enjoys small town family dramas would certainly enjoy this book.

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Thank you NetGalley and Algonquin Books for accepting my request to read and review Distant Sons.

Really a miss for me, 2.5 stars. There were too many characters with the same geographical area used over different times with the same family names. A flow chart was needed for the six degrees of separation.

The story is less about three missing boys and more about life in general. This could have been told from a psychiatric standpoint of what if. This was page after page of okay? So?

In hindsight, this feels more like literary fiction than mystery & thriller. There is storytelling (which I love), but was unrecognizable by me until the end.

I was waiting for anything to happen the first third of the book, it appeared to take a turn the next third, just to fizzle out in the end.

This just wasn't for me.

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This book started a bit slow, as Johnston focused on building the two main characters. And an excellent job of characterization it was. Even the supporting characters felt like real people. At about the mid-point, the pace picked up considerably, leading to a violent and sad resolution. That said, however, the final pages of the book managed to leave me with a hopeful feeling.

This was an extremely complex plot that I can't do a good job of summarizing. However, I will say that it deals with how good men, however damaged by life's events they may be, can manage to hold true to their good nature.

Johnston is a wonderful writer, somehow managing to find grace in the most graceless circumstances. I highly recommend this book, as well as his previous offerings.

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This book took me by surprise. It is not a traditional thriller by any means. This is a true literary suspense with a slow build to the conclusion. A stranger to this small town, Sean Courtland has a series of events that bring him to the attention of local law enforcement and set up the interaction with another new face from across the river, Dan Young. Both young men have similarities in background and begin working together doing repairs to a local outcast, Devereaux. We learn more about each character throughout the book and the local unsolved crime from many years ago.
I enjoyed the story and even the slow start was interesting. The wrap up of the crime was not completely satisfying for me. It felt somewhat rushed in action and detail when compared to the immense detail building up to the final third of the book. I don’t mind some ambiguity in an ending but this felt almost like the ending was rushed through without as much thought and care as the first 60-75%.
I still enjoyed it and would recommend it to the right audience.
#DistantSons #NetGalley #Algonquin

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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing an ARC for review.

This is a sneaky one. I was expecting a suspense novel but this was much more literary and character-driven. It's a slow burn that takes awhile to develop. Not a lot happens in the first half and there are sometimes unnecessary detail in the story. Sean and Dan drift into a heavy town together, and go to work for the town pariah, who may or may not have to do with the disappearance of children more than 30 years ago. I'm still not sure that I found the disappearance storyline resolved.

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(𝘛𝘩𝘢𝘯𝘬𝘴 𝘵𝘰 @𝘢𝘭𝘨𝘰𝘯𝘲𝘶𝘪𝘯𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢 #𝘨𝘪𝘧𝘵𝘦𝘥 𝘤𝘰𝘱𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘴 𝘣𝘰𝘰𝘬.) There’s nothing quite like a good literary suspense novel and I’m happy to report that 𝗗𝗜𝗦𝗧𝗔𝗡𝗧 𝗦𝗢𝗡𝗦 by Tim Johnston is exactly that. Plus, if you’re a fan of his debut, 𝘋𝘦𝘴𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘵, you’ll get the added bonus of a character from it resurfacing in this one. (No worries if you haven’t read 𝘋𝘦𝘴𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘵. It’s not necessary to know anything, but it had me extra engaged right from the start.)⁣

This is the story of two grown sons, each emotionally distant from their families, though not fully estranged from them. Both men wind up in a smallish Wisconsin town and pick up some home construction work for a man with a dark past that neighbors are still whispering about. More than 40 years ago three young boys vanished from the town. They were never found and no one was ever arrested, but people talk. Also in the mix are a female detective, haunted by the case her father never could solve, a sassy bartender and the man who feels entitled to claim her as his own.⁣

Similar to last month’s 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘙𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘞𝘦 𝘙𝘦𝘮𝘦𝘮𝘣𝘦𝘳 by William Kent Kruger, 𝘋𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘚𝘰𝘯𝘴 is simply a wonderfully told story. Johnston had me fully invested in the characters and the town right from the start. He masterfully wove together two distinct timelines and two completely different stories into one seamless gem of a novel that I highly recommend. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

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𝐃𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐚𝐧𝐭 𝐒𝐨𝐧𝐬
𝐁𝐲 𝐓𝐢𝐦 𝐉𝐨𝐡𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐨𝐧
𝐏𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐞𝐫: 𝐀𝐥𝐠𝐨𝐧𝐪𝐮𝐢𝐧 𝐁𝐨𝐨𝐤𝐬
𝐏𝐮𝐛 𝐃𝐚𝐭𝐞: 𝟏𝟎.𝟏𝟕.𝟐𝟎𝟐𝟑 𝑂𝑢𝑡 𝑁𝑜𝑤!

Thank you @algonquinbooks for the spot on tour and the gifted book.

Sean Courtland’s truck breaks down in a small town in Wisconsin. This very act sets off a string of events that had me glued to the pages.

Sean stays in this sleepy little town while his truck is repaired and finds work doing odd carpentry jobs. But his very presence seems to be a catalyst for trouble - or maybe this town’s buried secrets were on the precipice of coming unearthed.

The story includes the elements of friendship, small-town life, and even romance. But it collides with acts of violence, dark hidden secrets, and an unsolved mystery of boys that disappeared decades ago - and it shook me.

I will say you have to take your time with this one, savor it, and let the story unfold. The characters are written so well; they are flawed, damaged, and yet, the very picture of humanity. The writing is captivating; I loved how he wove together all the random connections and how he speaks of those who vanish - both physically and emotionally - from our lives. He made these characters feel so real, so much that, at times, I thought I should glance away from the rawness of the wreckage these people were causing in their lives.

A meandering crime novel that offers up vulnerable, flawed characters, and more than emotion than you may have bargained for. This is a must-read!

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3.5 ⭐️

went into this expecting a Mystery/Thriller but this is really more contemporary fiction with a bit of a mystery on the side . It is a beautifully written book but it is slow moving ( for a thriller anyway which is what I was expecting) and I felt like nothing much happened in the first half of the book ; but in the second half all the story arcs we are following finally start to come together .

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This story is told in third person and follows multiple characters in a small community in the American Midwest and is interspersed with parts from the past depicting the same community in 1977 when three young boys disappeared.

I really enjoyed the character of Sean Courtland whose truck broke down nearby and he ended up staying in the town, finding short term work as a contractor. His interactions with the locals and learning about the history of the town and its inhabitants pulled me into the story. He met another drifter, Dan, who he enlisted to help with his contracting job and made friendly with a local waitress in Denise who had an trouble causing ex. I enjoyed the friendship that built between Sean and Dan, and surprisingly, I enjoyed the connection that Dan shared with Marion and wish that had been explored a little more.

The story also followed Detective Viegas who seemed to cause more trouble with her questions than solutions. Her father worked on the original case of the missing boys but is now a lawyer and all the happier for it. Combined with the interspersed pieces of Marion’s story from back in 1977, I found a lot it to feel purposely ambiguous with cryptic dialogue that annoyed me a little. The switches back and forth in the story sometimes left me uninterested. I think I may have enjoyed it more if it had just followed Sean rather than jump around between all the different characters and the past.

Recommended for the authentic depiction of small-town America.

Thank you to NetGalley and Algonquin Books for a copy provided for an honest review.

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Tim Johnston has become a go to for excellent literary thrillers. Well developed characters, interesting plot and keeps you guessing to the end. Will be highly recommending Distant Sons!

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Tim Johnston's books are the kinds of mysteries you savor instead of speed through, as they have as much in common with literary fiction as with the mystery genre. In this one, as in his previous books, readers have to take their time understanding these characters- average people in the complex, confusing turns life takes you on, and the way legacy haunts and informs individuals and communities. Johnston creates an atmosphere with his stories that is distinct yet feels like it could happen anywhere. While this book has characters from and vaguely references the author's previous books, it's entirely standalone and it's not necessary to have read or revisited those books to appreciate this one.

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