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BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by Attica Locke: Book Review

It took 165 years for the Texas Rangers to admit the first black man to its law enforcement agency.  It’s nearly thirty years after that event, but Darren Matthews still gets unbelieving looks when people see the star pinned onto his uniform’s shirt.

Barely avoiding suspension from the Rangers for his part in a standoff between an old friend and a man who has been harassing and threatening the man’s granddaughter, Darren gets a call from another friend, Greg Hegland, a member of the F.B.I.

The town of Lark, Texas, has had two suspicious deaths in less than a week.  The first, a black man, died under suspicious circumstances; whether he was murdered or accidentally drowned is unclear.  The second, a young white woman, was definitely a homicide victim.

Lark is situated in Shelby County, a place where members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas have a strong presence.  It’s not a town where a black man would feel comfortable walking into an unfamiliar bar.  But that appears to have been what Michael Wright, a lawyer from Chicago, did.  What was this man, with no known ties to the tiny hamlet where he met his death, doing in Lark, much less in Jeff’s Juice House where he obviously wouldn’t have been welcome?  The white woman, Melissa Dale, was a waitress at that bar, and Darren is having a hard time putting together any script which connects the two victims.  No one in either of Lark’s gathering places, the white-owned Juice House or the black-owned Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, is talking.

Hoping to ride out his almost-suspension from the Rangers while looking into these deaths, Darren faces opposition from several quarters–the local sheriff, the Rangers, and the townspeople, both black and white, who are used to handling things by themselves and don’t want him investigating.  But Darren’s deep roots into the east Texas landscape and his feeling that this is indeed a racial incident compel him to look into the deaths regardless of the opposition and danger he’s facing.

Attica Locke has written a searing portrait of life in small-town Texas, showing the problems endemic in much of America–racial tensions, drugs, and mistrust of police authority.  Darren is a man trying to do his job despite his own issues–a failing marriage, a drinking problem, and a possible forced leave from a job he loves–and the author’s writing allows us to get inside his head as he tries to deal with them.

The novel crackles with tension, the writing is vibrant, and Darren will have you rooting for him even when he’s not exactly following the rules.  Bluebird, Bluebird is a nominee for the 2018 Edgar Best Novel.

You can read more about Attica Locke at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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