In Bluebird, Bluebird, two murders take us to a small town off Highway 59 in East Texas, where we discover what lies behind the racial tensions, which are a part of people’s everyday reality there.
When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules – a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well. Deeply conflicted about his home state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him back.
So when allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders – a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman – have stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes – and save himself in the process – before Lark’s long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.
While Attica Locke’s Texas Ranger may have some of the character traits we associate with law enforcement in this kind of story, he has others which set him apart. Darren’s flawed but he’s also trying his best to do what’s right in a part of the world where this doesn’t come easy. His internal struggle manifests itself in dialogue with the uncles who raised him and it could undermine his good intentions.
Bluebird, Bluebird is predominantly told from Darren’s point of view which is reasonably sound. Where other characters contribute, they tend to be less reliable, if easily recognisable and distinctive voices.
Locke peoples the small town of Lark with great characters: all interesting individuals, with some more sympathetic than others. Understandable, perhaps, in a town where there’s been a double homicide. I gravitated towards the community around the cafe though, because from the first time we meet Geneva Sweet in the cemetery, I liked her style. She moves to her own rhythm and is every bit as key to understanding Lark as her cafe around which the action revolves.
Locke’s writing is as beautifully spare as her story’s setting but licks along to the rhythm of the blues soundtrack she sets it to. I almost tasted the dust swirled up when a truck took off along the highway and sensed the thirst and simmering frustration that liquor alone wouldn’t quench. She shows the power and intensity of feeling love and hate both evoke and builds tension so incredibly well that I was almost on constant alert, aware of the jeopardy the characters were in and fearing for their safety and survival.
By honing in on this tiny stretch of Highway 59, with little more than a cafe at one end and a bar at the other and never straying far from the farm lanes and bayou beyond, Locke is able to examine a wider fault line running through American society. One that ever strengthening ripples of disturbance threaten to rupture further, causing yet more devastating division and damage to the land and its people.
Locke never lets her exploration of these bigger issues impact upon her ability to fashion a taut thriller out of the recent murders together with an unresolved crime from the past. Bluebird, Bluebird is an absorbing and exhilarating read, with the ending setting things up for its now much anticipated follow-up.
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke is published by Serpent’s Tail, an imprint of Profile Books. It’s available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where every purchase helps support your local independent bookshop.
Attica Locke is the author of Pleasantville, Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season. Attica is also a screenwriter and has written for Paramount, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, HBO, Dreamworks and was a writer and producer on the drama Empire. To find out more about Attica and her books, visit her Author Website, or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.