Review: Blood Truth by Matt Coyle

Our review of December’s Pick Of The Month: Blood Truth by Matt Coyle:

Matt Coyle understands mood and emotion is essential to a private eye novel. While delivering and engaging plot with plenty of action, his main ambition is getting into the head and heart of his tarnished knight Rick Cahill. In his latest, Blood Truth, it’s all personal.

Cahill has two cases that haunt him better than any ghost. An old flame he still carries a torch for hires him to follow her husband to see if he is cheating. Also, while at his family’s home, he discovers a hidden safe. Inside are a pistol with two missing bullets, fifteen thousand in cash, and a safe deposit key, all connected to an unsolved murder that resulted in his father’s dismissal from the police. The case for the old flame leads to a body in a car trunk.

Both mysteries dovetail beautifully into one another. Coyle executes the reveals and reversals that pilot the story like a master craftsman. Both involve moral decisions and preconceptions Cahill must face along with the danger as he deals with his father’s sins and lost love, all with a dangling possibility of healing if everything is solved.

Like Reed Farrel Coleman, Matt Coyle is able to tap into that classic melancholy of the private detective. He realizes a true hard boiled hero isn’t completely tough. It’s those vulnerabilities that draw us in as he struggles with his soul. For Coyle, it’s not what lurks down those mean streets that pose the greatest threat for our hero, it’s the loneliness one has walking down them.

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Q&A with Layton Green, author of Written In Blood

Here’s our Q&A with Layton Author, author of our Pick Of The Month, Written in Blood

MysteryPeople Scott: What I really loved about Written In Blood was how Preach’s personal life dovetailed perfectly with the mystery story. Was there any kind of advance planning in the process to pull this off?

Layton Green: My first editor told me to “always make it personal.” Since then, I’ve tried to heed that advice and blend the private lives of my protagonists with the crime, in some way. I agree that when there is a personal stake in the outcome above and beyond the job, the tension is usually heightened.

MPS: Many writers say they avoid dealing with religion and faith, yet some of the best crime novels and television episodes deal with it. What did you want to explore with that part of Preach’s struggle?

LG: To me, no matter the genre, the best novels deal with the tough questions in life, as well as the quotidian details. It doesn’t have to be overt, but as a reader, I want to know what my fictional heroes think about life and death, and good versus evil, and the meaning of it all (as well as their favorite drink). I decided to use Preach’s past lives as a way to explore those topics.

MPS: Kirby is a wonderful supporting character. Is there a way he came into being with the traits he has?

LG: Thanks! Hmm, you know, I don’t actually know from what void he sprang. I was just trying to make him real, and a reflection of his circumstances and his society. I liked him, too.

MPS: There are literary references in the story, many serving as clues. Was there anything you had to keep in mind when using them?

LG: I definitely did my research on this one, as I didn’t want to misstep and use a false reference.

I reread all the books and hit the commentaries, as well as trying to explore them in a novel manner. It was really fun to tie them all together, and I enjoyed the research into the “lineage” of detective fiction. Oh, and I consulted an intellectual property law professor. He says I’m good to go.

MPS: What did the setting of Creekville, North Carolina provide for you?

LG: The whole enchilada! The setting is loosely based on a real town in the Triangle that has many similarities to the one in the book. I fictionalized it so I could take liberties as needed, but the general vibe of the town, the extreme liberalism and quirky nature, are all there. I was fascinated to see the interplay between the progressive culture and the conservative bastions of the Old South. After a few weeks, I knew I wanted to write about that clash.

MPS: Some of the suspects are writers and not very likable. Were you making any comment on your profession?

LG: Not consciously. Just telling the truth, or part of it. There are many sides to a truth . . . and we crime writers tend to focus on the dark ones.

Pick of the Month: Written in Blood

Going home again seems to be the theme for mystery protagonists lately. Tom Bouman’s Officer Henry Farell licks his wounds by returning to his rural Pennsylvania community. Last month, C.M. Wendelboe’s Hunting The Five Points Killer had Arn Anderson returning to Cheyenne to solve a series of murders. Now, John Layton introduces us to Joe “Preach” Anderson, a former Atlanta police detective now working in his North Carolina hometown in Written In Blood.

Preach got his nickname from being a prison chaplain before his career in law enforcement. Hoping to see less inhumanity on the job, he works for the police department in Creekville, a bohemian town near Chapel Hill where he grew up. As we learn through sessions with his therapist, who is also his aunt, he’s dealing with several compounded trauma’s that have affected his faith and life.

forbioWhen a local bookseller is murdered, Preach is put on the case, since it is the first homicide the department has had in a decade. On the surface Creekville is a quaint town, full of artistic oddballs, akin to Louise Penny’s Three Pines. As Preach digs deeper into the case involving some local authors and several dark crimes, one feels echoes of the underbelly of Blue Velvet’s Lumberton.

The story skillfully weaves Preach’s personal story with the unraveling of the mystery. While the plot deals with many sordid topics, Layton never forgets the human victims involved. As Preach goes deeper, we wonder how he will handle it as we also have been uncovering his vulnerabilities.

Written In Blood is a great cross between a village mystery and police procedural. Lawton has populated Creekville, especially its police department, with fully fleshed out characters, and a hero in the middle of one hell of a journey. I’m already looking forward to Preach’s next case.

My Head is a Choir and All the Singers are Singing Different Songs: MysteryPeople Q&A with Joe Ide

 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Joe Ide burst onto the mystery scene last year with his debut Isaiah Quintabe mystery, IQ, a Holmesian puzzler set in South Central LA. A bunch of us quickly blazed our way through IQ – with its well-rounded characters, stylish action sequences, clever heists, weaponized pit bulls, and foggy-minded celebrities, what’s not to love?

Now Ide is back with the second in the series, Righteousin which IQ and his reluctant side-kick Dodson go on a wild road trip to Vegas to try and rescue a deep-in-debt DJ and her doofus boyfriend after they mess with forces beyond their clearance level. IQ wants a chance to rescue his brother’s ex-fiancee’s wayward little sister, while Dodson just wants a break from home before his new baby is born, but both get more than they bargained for as gangs, gamblers and grim-faced traffickers all converge on the lucky-in-love, unlucky-in-gambling Vegas couple and their LA protectors. Interwoven are new developments in Isaiah’s understanding of his brother’s untimely death. 

Joe Ide mixes his choreographed action sequences with meditations on love, isolation, and friendship, for a surprisingly moving story that we’ve chosen as our MysteryPeople Pick of the Month for October. Thanks to Joe Ide and the folks at Mulholland, we got a chance to ask a few questions about the book and the series.

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: I loved the madcap adventure that Isaiah and Dodson take to Vegas. What was your inspiration for the Vegas setting and their road trip through the sleaziest of cities? What kind of research did you do for the Vegas parts?

Joe Ide: I wanted to take Isaiah out of the hood and put him someplace where he have to deal with new situations and different kinds of characters. The more he’s a fish out of water, the more obstacles he has to overcome. There’s that old adage, no conflict, no story. Putting it in another location is a challenge for me. How to use the enviroment to advance the story. Embarrassingly, I did very little research on Vegas. For me ( like Isaiah) the town is “Too bright, too loud, too colossal.” Also like Isaiah, I bought a dog for 99cents and it was as big as a cat. The visuals I took from photographs and videos. As an aside, my Mom loved Vegas. She enjoyed being up at two in the morning, going anywhere she wanted. She had secret pockets in her pants to keep to her money away safe and foil the pickpockets.

MO: Dodson’s romance is unlikely, but the story of his courtship makes his successful wooing of his practical girlfriend believable. Which came first in the writing process, Dodson’s part in Isaiah’s adventure, or his new romance?

JI: I knew Dodson would be involved. He’s Isaiah’s Dr. Watson after all. But I like characters with full emotional lives. I want them to deal with the same problems we all deal with – like relationships. Giving him a romance seemed natural and the book is structured in a way that I that I could write about it.

MO: Both IQ and Righteous initially destabilize the reader’s expectations with two seemingly disparate plots, but then bring them together at the end in just the right way. Do you have extensive outlines before you even start writing? How do you tie it all together?

JI: I start with vaguest idea for a story and then I ask myself questions: Where does this take place? Who are the clients? Who are the bad guys? What do the bad guys want? What are the major problems Isaiah has to confront? And so on, and while I’m figuring these things out I’m making vague, random notes. About a character’s looks or a possible scene or piece of dialogue or whatever occurs to me. Think of it as a pointillist painting. I’m putting dots on the canvas and after I have lots and lots of them, the canvas starts to take shape, and at a certain point, I have to decide, is this a book or isn’t it? I’ve thrown a few away and started over, but when I have the makings of a book, I start writing as fast as I can. If I don’t know something I skip it and keep going until I have the creakiest skeleton of a story with missing limbs. But when I’m done, I have a structure on which I can build. Subplots occur to me as I’m writing and become more dots until they’re little canvases themselves and I see ways to knit them together, things I didn’t know when I started. I’m always thinking ahead, asking myself, where will this go? How will it be resolved? I’m making the process seem much more linear than it is. My head is a choir and all the singers are singing different songs. It takes them a long time before they’re on the singing the same tune. I recommend my methods to no one.

MO: I’ve heard there’s plans for a TV series in the making (which I will absolutely watch and hopefully binge watch!). What stage is the planning at? Who are your ideal casting choices?

The TV world moves at its own pace. I don’t know what they’re actually doing and where they are in the process. Every time a production makes an advance, another compromise is made with the original material. It’s too aggrevating and time consuming to worry about that stuff. I’ll stick to writing books.

MO: So I love Sherlock Holmes, and I love that you’re inspired by the stories, but not beholden to them. In particular, at the end of Righteous (and I promise there are no spoilers in this question) Isaiah is helped not just by his grasp of logic, but by (it seems to me) perfectly timed random fate. How much do you draw on the Sherlock canon, and how much do you like to change things up?

I’m not conscious of drawing on Sherlock. His influence is mixed in with a dozens, hundreds of others, including my own life experience. I don’t really decide how much of this and how much that. It just comes out that way. That sounds simplistic but it’s not. It’s the result of everything that’s ever happened to me put in a blender until it’s all unrecognizable and poured on to the pages.

MO: You have a love of South Central LA drawn from your experiences growing up in the area – tell us about your setting. Which came first to you when you were developing the series, the character or the area?

Chicken and the egg. As you say, I grew up in the hood and I loved Sherlock Holmes. I read all fifty six stories and four novels multiple times. When I decided to write a book there was never any question it would be Sherlock in the Hood.

MO: You have such perfectly choreographed shootouts and fight scenes – how do you plan out the action in your books?

It helps that I was a screenwriter. A set piece in a movie is structured the same as a set piece in a book. It has three acts. Act one lays out the premise, the situation. Act two is the action playing itself out, escalating in intensity until the end of the act where all seems lost for the good guys. In Act three, the good guys rise again and justice wins the day. Maybe. Having that as a base, I start my planning by thinking about outcomes. What do I want happen during the sequence? How do I want it to end? Then I identify the players and what each of them wants. I pick a location that serves these purposes and then I play chess with the pieces. If so and so does this, what’s so and so’s response? How does so and so get from A to B? What’s the most surprising, creative way for these things to happen? Sometimes I draw annotated diagrams. It’s about being specific and patient. Again, the process isn’t close to being that logical or organized.

MO: Obviously Arthur Conan Doyle is one of your writing inspirations, but you seem to draw from a diverse array of genres, and your voice is all your own – tell us about your influences.

All the writers you’d expect. Walter Moseley, Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly, Raymond Chandler, Don Winslow, James Lee Burke, Chester Himes, John LeCarre (spy novels are just crime novels in another country) James Ellroy, Dennis Lehane, Octavia Butler and on and on and on. Other kinds of books as well. Chris Cleaves, Donna Tart, Toni Morrison, Sarah Waters, Janet Fitch, Amor Towles, William Styron, Cormac McCarthy – also on and on and on and on. I like storytellers and interesting writing.

MO: Poor Sherlock. His love life is in shambles. Will he ever find love?

Yes, he will! But he will tormented, frightened and flummoxed, (like anybody else that’s in love).

MO: What’s next for the series? It seems like Isaiah’s resolved some of the lingering questions about his brother’s death and is ready for the bigtime in terms of investigations.

My original plan was for the characters to grow from book to book. In IQ, Isaiah is very isolated because of a tremendous burden of guilt. At the end of the book, he sets the guilt aside. In Righteous, he realizes he’s lonely and makes his first awkward attempts at reaching out. In IQ, Dodson learns that he and his girlfriend are having a baby. In Righteous, he has to deal with fatherhood. IQ3 will continue that growth. Of course, there will always be new bad guys and adventures but I don’t know as Isaiah ever take on really big investigations, ones of say, national importance. There are many other writers, like LeCarre, who do that way better than I could ever hope to. Isaiah’s cases will remain in the middle in terms of size. That’s where he (and I) feel most comfortable.

You can find copies of Righteous on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: RIGHTEOUS by Joe Ide

Joe Ide’s back with the second installment of his Isaiah Quintabe series, Righteousa perfect follow-up to last year’s IQ. In his latest, Isaiah and Dodson take a trip to Vegas to help a DJ out of a messy situation involving gangsters, gamblers, and gamines. Meanwhile, Isaiah finds new evidence about his brother’s murder. Below, Molly reviews Righteous – keep an eye on the blog for her Q&A session with the author. Righteous comes out October 17th

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9780316267779Many of us here at the store enjoyed Joe Ide’s debut IQthe first in a series featuring his new Holmesian detective Isaiah Quintabe and Quintabe’s hustling sidekick Dodson. In IQ, the two ease into their role as investigators in the present while a past timeline details their previous life of crime. IQ’s heartbreak at his brother’s death in a car accident, while moving, doesn’t set the tone of the novel; instead, the plot is driven by IQ’s clever criminal activities in the past and his present-day investigation of threats made to a rapper unable to handle his success.

In Righteousthe two reunite after Sarita, IQ’s murdered brother’s former fiancée, recruits Isaiah to bail her gambling-addict sister and her goofball of a boyfriend out of trouble. IQ tells himself he’s helping her out as a favor to a family friend, reluctant to admit his true urge to help her stems from his lingering attraction to her, as well as the memories of his dead brother her presence evokes. IQ brings Dodson along, Dodson (at first) happy to avoid his partner’s cravings and anxieties as she nears her due date. IQ’s feeling a bit preoccupied on his trip to Vegas. He’s just found out at the start of Righteous that his brother’s death was no accident – it was a hit all along.

Dodson and Isaiah’s working vacation will require all their combined street smarts and intellect, as they wade into a tangled mire of sex trafficking, gambling debts, and one hellish mafia enforcer after another. Sarita’s sister hasn’t just accrued a gargantuan debt. She’s also stolen information from her father, a man involved in shadier endeavors than her privileged upbringing could ever have allowed her to discover. She’s on the run from her father’s criminal syndicate and her dry-humored loan shark, and IQ must pit the two organizations against each other in order to extricate the two gambling addicts from their self-made morass.

Woven through the novel is a timeline from the recent past, in which IQ investigates his brother’s death for the first time as a murder. Not content to quietly look into the matter, IQ manages to piss off an entire LA gang and some highly dangerous hitmen in the process. Like Chechov’s gun, every piece of information, no matter how significant, comes to matter by the end, as does every criminal syndicate, minor and major.

The first half of the story is true to its Sherlockian inspiration, diving into plots as intricate as any the Great Detective might have solved. The second half of the novel is pure action. Joe Ide takes us through a stylishly choreographed fight scenes in a Vegas massage parlor to a shootout with a twist in LA for one heck of a crime thriller. Unlike the traditional detective novel, happenstance plays its part as everything falls into place for an outrageously good ending.

Violent content does not equate to a high valuation of violent men. Some characters are destroyed by the guilt of past violent acts, while others use violence as a shortcut to a happiness they have no chance of achieving. Gangsters who’ve worked hard to separate their private and professional lives find their families undone by twisted revelations, while others realize too late that those enforcers they’ve placed in harm’s way may be the closest thing they have to a friend. The relationship between an ex-gang member, his out-of-control younger sister, and his former mentee-turned-fixer makes for poignant reading, as we trace their journey from enjoying their prestige to feeling emotionally crippled by their pasts.

Joe Ide is a versatile, playful and affecting writer. He knows how to have us laughing one page, crying the next, scratching our heads to solve a puzzle the following page, and on the edge of our seats the page after that. His works are a heightened, stylish take on the real struggles and emotions of human experience, and he can just as easily write a dinner party as a fight sequence. We can’t wait to see what IQ and Dodson investigate next.

Righteous comes out October 17th – pre-order now! 

Tense and Tightly Coiled: MysteryPeople Q&A with Attica Locke

Attica Locke’s latest crime novel, Bluebird, Bluebirdis a timely narrative of justice, murder and taking a stand. African-American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews, suspended after helping a friend hold off white supremacists, is thinking of leaving the Rangers and joining his uncle to practice civil rights law. His marriage is on the rocks, his superiors won’t let him bring race into the equation when tracking the criminal activities of the Aryan Brotherhood, and he’s getting sick and tired of East Texas.

When Darren drives through a small Texas town and stops at a small cafe that functions as a safe haven for African-American travelers, he learns of two suspicious murders committed within a week of each other. Neither is the subject of a proper investigation, and Darren knows that without his intervention, consequences for the town’s black community loom large. As Darren looks into the murder of a prosperous black lawyer from Chicago and a local hard-living white waitress, he faces opposition from the small-town sheriff, the Aryan Brotherhood, and a cheerfully corrupt good ol’ boy. 

Bluebird, Bluebird is our Pick of the Month for September. Attica Locke was kind enough to answer some questions about the book, its context, and her crime-writing career. 

  • Interview by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

Molly Odintz: Bluebird, Bluebird is your fourth crime novel, and you’ve spent time writing for a TV show that, while not a crime series, has some crime elements and is certainly all about power. You’ve written a straight-up mystery, a political thriller, a legal thriller, and a rural thriller – what draws you to the genre, and what subgenre do you want to tackle next?

Attica Locke: I’ve always been drawn to mystery stories, probably since I read The Westing Game as a kid. I’m drawn to intrigue and and am curious about people who lie. I’m drawn to the (heavily paraphrased here) Flannery O’Connor quote about violence: when we’re confronted with it; it reduces us to our most essential selves.

MO: Darren Matthews, as a black Texas Ranger, is torn between his community and his profession. The Texas Rangers are dedicated to fighting the Aryan Brotherhood as a drug-smuggling operation, yet refuse to address hate crimes as a reason to target the white supremacist gang. Darren is placed on administrative leave after helping an old friend protect his granddaughter from a racist attack, in a state that fully embraces the right to shoot trespassers. What did you want to explore about the constraints and ambiguities faced by minorities in law enforcement?

AL: I definitely wanted to reclaim the idea of “Stand Your Ground” from the awfulness of the Trayvon Martin or the Jordan Davis murders. There is another aspect of stand your ground which is about black (Texans, in this case) saying this is my state too (my country too), and I’m going to stand up for right to live peacefully and safely in it. I also wanted to portray a black man with a badge who wants to protect black life in Texas.

MO: Your Jay Porter novels contrast sharply with The Cutting Season, set on a plantation in Louisiana, and Bluebird, Bluebird, set in rural East Texas. What draws you to writing about the complex machinery of the city, and what inspires you about the frozen-in-time backwoods?

AL: I’m from Houston, so truth is, I’m a city girl at heart. But all of my people are from rural towns along Highway 59 in East Texas, so the rural is in my blood too. It’s fun to write both.

MO: I am so happy you returned to writing crime fiction, but I’ve also enjoyed the show Empire and your work on it. How does writing television compare to writing a novel?

AL: They could not be more different. One is done by committee, essentially – and by that, I don’t just mean the other writers on the show, but also the actors and set designer and director of photography and the editor. Through every stage of the process, the storytelling is being tweaked – either by a performance or a lighting choice, etc. It’s fun to be a part of it. It feels like playing. And I do like the social aspects of it. But it’s also lovely to be alone in your own story and following your own story compass. I’m one of those gregarious introverts. I like people. But I also really like being alone.

MO: To piggyback off that last question, Bluebird, Bluebird felt more cinematic than the previous volumes I’ve read from you, especially the shootout at the cafe. How did you bring that cinematic urgency to your latest, while exploring power politics as much as in previous volumes?

AL: I used to be a screenwriter before I was a novelist, so I’ve kind of always had the ability to write visually. It may be that a few years on Empire reminded me of the pleasures of writing visually. Or it’s just that I set out to want this book to feel tense and tightly coiled. So I tried to find urgency in lots of places.

MO: Although I found all the characters compelling, the tough cafe owner was my favorite. That cafe felt so real. What was your inspiration for the diner and its complex owner?

AL: There was a cafe called Geneva’s in Lufkin, Texas, when my mother was growing up in the 50s. Also, my great-grandmother had a cafe in Corrigan, Texas. These were both places that mainly catered to black folks during the Jim Crow years. And I guess the idea of women running their own businesses, just kind of stuck with me. Geneva’s strength, particularly the way she never gives in to a bully like Wally, comes from my grandmother.

MO: Darren’s uncles and their vastly different advice fascinated me – one uncle, a former Ranger, represents the voice of working within the system, and the ultimate image of Texas tough, while his other uncle, a career lawyer, constantly urges Darren to fight the good fight from outside the governmental system. Can you tell us a bit more about the paths Darren’s uncles represent, and Darren’s choice to drop out of law school to become a Texas Ranger?

AL: Well, they’re identical twins, so they quite literally represent a fracture in the black psyche. Do we follow the rules (i.e. put your hands in the air when the cops says to)? Or do we not bother because we’re going to get shot anyway? That’s a macabre example, but it suggests the ways in which black folks are never quite sure if it’s safe for us to follow the rules. And the two uncles represent that philosophical question. I know there are a lot of officers of color who consider protecting all life as a part of their duty. Just as I know a lot of black folks who say they will never trust a cop.

MO: Darren’s separation from his wife, and his grief over their potentially permanent parting, mirrors the grief felt by the murdered Chicago lawyer’s wife. Can you tell us a bit about your inspiration for their relationships with their spouses, and their bond with each other?

AL: No inspiration per se, just as I was writing I could see the parallels between Darren being a Ranger (literally a man on the range) and having a wife who wants him to stay put, and Randie whose marriage was the opposite. It truly just came out in the writing.

MO: You’ve so far written exclusively male protagonists for your crime novels – what draws you to the male voice?

AL: Don’t forget my sweet Caren in The Cutting Season. But, yes, it’s true, I’ve mostly written male protagonists. Jay is a sketch of my dad and even still, he’s a part of my psyche; and of course Pleasantville continues with him. With Bluebird, Bluebird, I made a choice to choose race over gender to tell this story. There are so few female Rangers that the story would have taken on a different tone, held different responsibilities. Maybe I’ve got a lot of work to do on intersectionality, but I consider myself black first and a woman second. No right or wrong to it, it’s just my truth. It was easier for me to say what I wanted about race and law enforcement without layering on the gender politics of being one of only like four female Rangers. And black. But that also sounds like a hell of a book. So maybe that’s coming.

MO: I loved your latest, but I would also love to see another Jay Porter novel; maybe even Jay Porter in LA, given your time spent there (although I read in your interview with Rachel Howzell Hall that you are wary of writing a story set in LA) Will Jay Porter ever return?

AL: I hope so. But I’m waiting for a story that demands Jay be in it. I’m waiting for him to tap me on the shoulder.

MO: The Rangers are an ambivalent force in the novel – instead of the straightforward racism expressed by Lark’s small town sheriff, the Texas Rangers refuse to acknowledge race at all, thus perpetuating racism in ways more subtle but just as persistent as any generation before. Darren must manipulate his superiors down to the local sheriff to get any law enforcement to do what he wants – did you set out to explore supposedly “colorblind” law enforcement and its limitations, or did that simply follow naturally from your initial plot idea?

AL: Anything “colorblind” is a problem. One, it’s impossible. And two, it’s offensive. People shouldn’t have to lop off parts of their identity to be accepted, or to do their jobs. But I should be clear that though I based my portrayal of the Rangers on research and talking to at least one Ranger, this is my interpretation of what it means to be a Ranger. Their desire to take down the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas on drug charges (not race) is a tactic. But I think in any law enforcement unit or in the military there is an emphasis on unity and sameness. Part of me understand the need for that. But a larger part of me feels for the black or Latino man or woman trying to navigate the culture when they clearly aren’t the same as everyone else.

You can find copies of Bluebird, Bluebird on our shelves and via bookpeople.com

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!