Monday, November 14, 2016

Review: Darktown

Summary: The award-winning author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in 1948 Atlanta, exploring a murder, corrupt police, and strained race relations that feels ripped from today's headlines.

Responding to orders from on high, the Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire its first black officers, including war veterans Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers; they aren’t allowed to arrest white suspects, drive squad cars, or set foot in the police headquarters.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up dead, Boggs and Smith suspect white cops are behind it. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood as his own, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Among shady moonshiners, duplicitous madams, crooked lawmen, and the constant restrictions of Jim Crow, Boggs and Smith will risk their new jobs, and their lives, while navigating a dangerous world—a world on the cusp of great change.

Set in the postwar, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice. -- Atria/37 Ink

I am super excited to share with you my thoughts about DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen. This is one of the books I brought back with me from my trip to SIBA; and after reading the description, I knew it was going to be one of the first ones I read. Let me just say -- DARKTOWN didn't disappoint. This police procedural was a terrific thriller and a wonderful example of literary fiction. I really can't say enough good things about this novel.

DARKTOWN takes place in the late 1940s in Atlanta -- right after the first black men were hired as policemen; however, many of the issues written about in this novel are as timely as ever. The book explores racism and corruption in a police department while also delving into a troubling murder mystery.

Boggs and Smith, two black cops, are the last people to see a young black woman before she is found dead. These two men last saw her in the car with a white man who was driving recklessly; however, they weren't able to cite him because of the color of their skin. No one in the Atlanta police department, especially Dunlow who is "responsible" for the case, seems to be very interested in discovering the truth behind a black woman's murder, so Boggs and Smith are determined to solve the case.

Boggs and Smith know that they are going to ruffle some feathers with their investigation; and as a result, they decide to keep it as hidden as possible. While Dunlop wants nothing to do with them, his young partner Rakestraw may be more willing to look into the woman's murder. The thing is, Boggs and Smith aren't quite sure if they can trust Rakestraw -- his partner hates the blacks on the force and is Rakestraw willing to go against him?

As Boggs and Smith become more involved in the murder mystery, they run up against an ugly underworld of moonshiners, madams, crooked cops, and more. They also find their hands tied by the constant constraints of the police department and the Jim Crow laws that are in place. Can Boggs and Smith (maybe with the help of Rakestraw) solve this woman's murder while keeping their jobs and maybe even their lives?

I loved DARKTOWN! I mean I seriously thought this book was amazing. It was a very good murder mystery with lots of shady characters and many twists and turns; however, it was an even better example of literary fiction. I loved the basic premise of the novel -- the troubles that the first black men faced when they were hired back in the late 1940s in Atlanta. And I loved even more how well it explored the concept of racism in our country.

It doesn't seem all that long ago, but in many ways the treatment of the eight black police officers amazed me. I understand this was pre-civil rights and things were bad in the South, but these men were not allowed to arrest white criminals, drive police cars, wear their uniforms to and from the courthouse, or even walk into the police headquarters -- they had their own "space" in a dingy YMCA. In this novel, a few of these men were even war heroes... and yet they came home to this racist behavior. Unbelievable!

Another thing I appreciated about this book was the writing. I thought Mr. Mullen did an outstanding job of bringing the setting to life as well as the characters. As much as I liked seeing how difficult it was for Boggs and Smith to do their jobs, as well as how they personally coped with the racism, I also found the character of Rakestraw to be extremely interesting. He was a white officer who was torn between working with his dirty partner and doing the "right" thing. He almost didn't fit in with either the white or black cops. In addition, I found the dialogue to be realistic and I also really appreciated the pacing of the story. I honestly couldn't put this one down!

And finally, a really impressive aspect of this novel was the mystery itself. It was a good one -- that's for sure. It was more complex that it first appeared to me, and I really appreciated how Boggs and Smith investigated it and eventually discovered the truth. There was an intriguing complexity to the case, and coupled with the theme of racism and the terrific writing, it was a very entertaining and thought-provoking novel.

Overall, I enjoyed DARKTOWN very much and highly recommend it to fans of mysteries and literary fiction.

I received a copy of this novel at the 2016 SIBA.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.

1 comment:

bermudaonion said...

This sounds right up my alley! I picked it up at SIBA too and can't wait to read it now.