MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD by Attica Locke

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780316363297Ever since Attica Locke started writing for the hit TV show Empire, I’ve eagerly anticipated her return to crime fiction (while enjoying watching the show, of course.) Her Jay Porter novels, Black Water Rising and Pleasantville, together paint a vivid portrait of African-American life in Houston while continuing the Texas crime writing tradition of featuring lawyers moonlighting as sleuths.

At last, a new Attica Locke book is out! Between the driving plot, the complex characters, and the righteous anger, Locke’s latest, Bluebird, Bluebird, has exceeded my highest expectations. Her latest is also her first to take place in rural East Texas, and her first to be released by Mulholland Books.

When Darren, an African-American Texas Ranger, goes to help out a friend fend off a crazed white supremacist, he faces censure from his department for taking an interest in fighting hate crimes. He’s already disappointed his superiors by attempting to introduce race into the organization’s massive investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood, their tunnel-vision focus on gun-smuggling and drug-dealing a hindrance to any honest reckoning with the powerful prison gang.

After contemplating quitting the force and returning to law school, Darren thinks he’s ready to make his wife happy and retire from his dangerous occupation. When he finds out about two suspicious murders in the small town of Lark, just off of Highway 59, he knows he should move on, but he can’t leave the case alone. A black lawyer and a white waitress have been murdered in a small Texas town within a week of each other, and Darren doesn’t place much trust in local law enforcement’s interest in solving the crimes.

With the reluctant acquiescence of his bosses, under pressure from reporters to appear to be solving the crime, Darren takes on the investigation of both murders. Next thing he knows, he’s treading through muddy bayous and knee-deep in white supremacists and corrupt sheriffs as he tries to solve the two murders before the Aryan Brotherhood succeeds in their mission to assassinate him.

The discovery of the white waitress’ body behind a cafe that doubles as a community space and a safe haven for black travelers puts the entire black population of the town at risk as Aryan Brotherhood thugs try to frame the cafe patrons for the murder. Darren works to protect the cafe and its denizens, while trying to force the town’s authorities to step back from scapegoating and actually solve the crime. Meanwhile, Darren gets closer to proving that an icehouse run by white supremacist meth dealers is most likely the scene of the crime, despite the owners working hard to hinder the investigation.

Bluebird, Bluebird seems to pay tribute to the classic novel and film In the Heat of the Night. Bluebird, Bluebird‘s Northern-educated black professionals (including the murdered lawyer, his grieving photographer wife, and the intellectual Texas Ranger protagonist) all face heightened prejudice from the townspeople inspired by their skin color and their professional status, yet each manages to use that status to fulfill their goals and further the investigation. Darren, like Mr. Tibbs, is a dignified action hero who uses his wits, wiles, and professional skills to shake up a town sick of its own corruption.

As I finished the novel, my mind drew additional parallels to one of the year’s greatest genre films. Like the film Get Out, Bluebird Bluebird uses genre to tackle the horror felt by those who’ve seemingly attained success and safety, but know the difference between life and death is merely the difference between the civilized censorship of the city and the primal hatred of the pines.Believable, timely, and full of outrage – the perfect East Texas crime novel!

Bluebird, Bluebird comes out September 12th – Pre-order now! 

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