Book Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

“And ain’t nobody done a damn thing about that black man got killed up the road just last week,” Huxley said. “They ain’t thinking about that man,” Tim said, tossing a grease-stained napkin on his plate. “Not white a white girl come up dead.” “Mark my words,” Huxley said, looking gravely at each and every black face in the cafe. “Somebody is going down for this.”

Attica Locke has written a solid crime suspense with an important message woven throughout, Bluebird, Bluebird tackles the racial injustices embedded in the American judicial system. Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger and while on suspension during an investigation for his role in a crime that hit close to home, he is asked by a friend and FBI agent to travel to Lark, Texas. This small East Texas town has recently seen two murders, something unprecedented for such a remote area, and Darren is sent to find out why.

Meanwhile, Geneva Sweet is a local business owner who prides herself on creating in her diner a place for the black folks of Lark to have a safe haven to come to when the troubles of the world get to be too much. She isn’t immune to trouble herself though, as she has suffered the losses of her husband and son. When the body of a white young woman is pulled from the bayou behind her diner, Geneva is quickly reminded that while she does her best to offer shelter to her local community, the world is still a dangerous place.

She didn’t mention the killings, though, or the trouble bubbling in town. She grace them that little bit of peace. She kissed the tips of her fingers, laying them on the first headstone, then the second. She let her touch linger on her son’s grave, giving out a weary sigh. Seemed like death had a mind to follow her around in this lifetime. It was a sly shadow at her back, as single-minded as a dog on a hunt; as faithful, too.

This murder follows just days after the murder of a black lawyer, Michael Wright, from Chicago; the timing is suspicious to most of the people in Lark. When Darren arrives he is quickly aware of the menacing presence of the Aryan Brotherhood and the blind eye turned by the local sheriff. Despite his authority as a Texas Ranger, Darren in plunged into a world where his skin color supersedes his badge and racial tensions are fierce.

All signs point to the lawyer’s death being a direct result of the vicious hate spewed by this local group and Darren does everything in his power to unearth the necessary evidence. He is troubled, however, by how the death of Missy Dale, the young white woman, plays into the hate crime scenario. As he spends more time in Lark, he slowly begins to expose its inner mechanisms- a tangled web of small town secrets.

It all circled back to Geneva’s, and hope Darren had of stopping a racial witch hunt for Missy Dale’s killer, and going back there was his best chance to get justice for Michael Wright, get answers about his last hours on earth.

There is a simmering hostility between Geneva and Wally Jefferson, the owner of the local watering hole and white landowner whose long family history in Lark gives him a sense of entitlement. It becomes clear that only the locals understand how to navigate the tricky structure of their town. However, his outsiders perspective allows him to see what the local law enforcement doesn’t or simply chooses to ignore and Darren won’t stand for that injustice.

Darren begins to unearth the history of Lark and when he discovers the countless ties that bind its people, the reasons for his investigation come into full focus. This story is expertly paced and the plot rendered with such brilliance that the final reveal is like the contended release of finishing a challenging puzzle. Locke is a masterful creator of crime stories with Bluebird, Bluebird staking the claim on suspense novels with ethical underpinnings.

Michael’s and Missy’s murders were race crimes, yes, but that was mainly because of the ways race defined so much about Lark, Texas, especially in terms of love, unexpected, and the family ties it created. He had forgotten that the most elemental instinct in human nature is not hate but love, the former inextricably linked to the latter.

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A review copy of this title was provided by Mulholland Books (Little Brown)

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