Book Review: Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
Heaven, My Home, the second book in Attica Locke’s Highway 59 series, uses a child’s disappearance to devastating effect in order to explore displacement, reconciliation and just what home means to people.
Nine-year-old Levi King knew he should have left for home sooner; instead he found himself all alone, adrift on the vastness of Caddo Lake. A sudden noise – and all goes dark.
Ranger Darren Matthews’ career and reputation lie in the hands of his mother, who’s never exactly had his best interests at heart, and she’s not above a little blackmail to press her advantage.
An unlikely possibility of rescue arrives in the form of a case down Highway 59, in a small lakeside town. In deep country where the rule of law only goes so far, Darren has to battle centuries-old prejudices as he races to save not only Levi King, but himself.
There’s a real sense of urgency to Heaven, My Home which doesn’t only stem from the length of time that a young boy’s been missing from his home. The countdown to Trump’s inauguration is running, bringing with it the potential for new priorities being set for Texas Ranger Darren Matthews’ department. Darren and his Ranger friends have registered this shift and already seen an upsurge in a more blatant form of racially-motivated crimes. They also sense that they might be running out of time to pursue certain lines of inquiry, particularly those involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT).
Darren’s lieutenant sees an opportunity to do something about that in this sequel to Bluebird, Bluebird, which I reviewed here. When the feds want a Ranger from the ABT task force involved, he volunteers Darren, sending him into a racially-charged war of attrition between an established and lawful black community living alongside Native Texan Indians on the shores of Caddo Lake and the more recent, and predominantly white, trailer park encroaching upon it.
Upon his arrival on the scene, Locke’s Texas Ranger is exposed to animosity from people who show scant regard for his badge in their dealings with him. I couldn’t help but feel that in trying to escape his mother’s blackmail and the pressure from not yet having been cleared of his involvement in a case back home, he’d jumped out of the frying pan into the fire.
There couldn’t be a better setting for this story with the battle lines being drawn between old and new Hopetown, just outside the city. Jefferson, itself, is a throwback to its supposed antebellum glory days when it was a busy port and one of the largest cities in the state. The town now trades on this tarnished and faded legacy in order to try and attract tourists, while some of its wealthier inhabitants vainly cling to the trappings of the past.
There was something pinched about Jefferson, not so much buttoned up as hemmed in, a sense of propriety in its genteel appearance… that made the city look like it was trying too hard, like it had something to hide. It was a town that time had passed by.
Locke writes her locations so well here that they seemed to seep and slide off the page until I was surrounded by a living, breathing force. The creeping green of the “Spanish moss on the Cypress trees dampening all sound” is ideal for swallowing up small boats carrying little boys, just as in times past it had hidden escaping slaves on this “primeval lake on the edge of the state, this swamp at the edge of time.”
Locke’s writing is taut yet lyrical and wonderfully evocative. She creates a palpable tension which becomes almost unbearable at times in Heaven, My Home, with the balance of power constantly shifting. This has the intended disorienting effect, and was much as I imagined it felt like to be out on Caddo Lake and bayou, where the very islands and Cypress trees themselves seemed able to shift around and rearrange their watery topography.
Heaven, My Home is a searing sequel and an utterly absorbing novel from a writer who’s unafraid to delve right into the dark heart of America to explore and expose its history of racial tensions and their present-day state.
Heaven, My Home 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 proof copy for review.