Attica Locke is a force to be reckoned with and the first mystery in the Highway 59 series, Bluebird, Bluebird was outstanding, so I jumped when I saw this, the second in the series available to review. My thanks go to Net Galley and Mulholland Books for the review copy. It will be available to the public Tuesday, September 17, 2019.
a Black Texas Ranger, and his work is to unmask and prosecute members of the
sinister Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. When the story opens we see that our
protagonist is still drinking; he and his wife Lisa, who were estranged during
the last book, have reached a détente of sorts. He will still drink, but it
will be civilized consumption in front of his wife. A glass of beer. There.
See, was that so bad? He has it handled. In exchange, he agrees to bring his
work off the road, and so he is assigned to a supervisory position directing
other officers in pursuit of the ABT. He doesn’t want to drive a desk, but it’s
a concession he makes for her.
But Darren has gotten himself into an awkward spot, a
compromising one. His mother—a woman that did not raise him but with whom he
has recently developed a relationship of sorts—says it’s a shame that nobody
has found the .38 used to kill Ronnie Malvo. Mack, who is dear to Darren, is a
suspect in that homicide, and his mother has the gun. He tells himself that his
frequent contact with her is a sign that they have a closer relationship and
that the money and gifts he brings her are a pleasure for him to provide. But
it’s not true; actually, his mother is blackmailing him.
And before you know it, he’s drinking hard, anywhere and
everywhere that Lisa can’t see it.
Everyone that reads a lot of fiction in general or mysteries
in particular develops a mental list of things they are tired of seeing. I for
one could die happy if I never saw another alcoholic protagonist; I am also
weary of seeing mean mothers. Why does every author have to take a pot shot at
motherhood? But for every item on my list, there’s an exceptional writer that
gets a pass because their prose is so solid, their voice so clear and resonant,
their pacing so flawless, their characters so credible. Locke is one of those
writers. (And to be fair, there are other features on my no-no list that Locke
So there’s the iffy marriage; there’s the bottle; there’s
the blackmailing mama. But that’s not the half of it. Darren is sent into the
field, despite his protests and his promise to Lisa, because there’s a missing
child–the child of a member of the ABT– who has last been seen in a
historically Black community, and the Rangers need a Black lawman to ease the
way of the investigation. The Rangers don’t have a lot of Black officers to
So next thing we know Darren is out in the boondocks,
serving as a companion officer to a Caucasian sheriff that doesn’t really want
much to do with Darren. In fact, the local power brokers, all of them white, are
visibly uncomfortable in his presence, particularly when he enters private
homes. And he knows that information is being withheld from him, not only by
these people but also by Leroy Page, an elderly African-American man that was
the last one to see Levi alive.
Locke is noteworthy for the way she creates a sense of
disorientation, a murk that starts with the setting—swampy, dark, wet—and extends
into the characters that withhold information and make remarks that are both
overly general but also sometimes loaded with double meaning that he can’t
decode. And into all of this mess comes his best friend Greg, a Caucasian FBI man that has been sent in to
explore the possibility of a hate crime here.
Part of Locke’s magic is her perceptive nature and the way
she segues political events into the storyline. And so the pages fairly vibrate
with betrayal when Greg, who knows from Darren that Leroy has not been
forthcoming and won’t permit a warrantless search of his home, says that Leroy
is guilty of a hate crime. The current administration takes a low view of such
matters, Greg points out, and after all, Leroy referred to him as the “HCIC;
Head Cracker In Charge.” Darren takes exception:
“Cracker and nigger are not the same, and you know it,” Darren said.
“If we don’t prosecute hate crimes against whites—if that’s what this is,” Greg said, just to get Darren to hear him out, “if we don’t prosecute crimes against white lives to the degree that we do those against black lives—“
Darren laughed so hard the bourbon nearly choked him.
“They need to see the FBI taking every hate crime seriously.”
“So this is the Jackie Robinson of federal hate crime cases?”
It’s preposterous, of course. For one thing, as Darren
points out, there’s no body. The child may be alive. But he is shaken by his
friend’s behavior, and when Lisa drives out to visit on her day off, Darren is
further concerned by how intimately she and Greg regard one another. It’s one
more thing he doesn’t need, and at this point he has nobody left, apart from
his very elderly uncle, who tells him the truth and isn’t hiding anything. He does his best to help Leroy, but Leroy
doesn’t trust him and is also not telling him everything, and he’s forced to
recognize that this elderly man that reminds him of his uncles and Mack is,
after all, another stranger.
Meanwhile, Darren makes a decision that knocks up against
the ethics that his upbringing and his profession demand.
The tension builds and there’s no putting this book down. I
stayed up late because I couldn’t sleep until I knew the outcome, which I did
not see coming.
Locke is brilliant and seems to me like a shoo-in for a
Grand Masters Award. This book and the one before it are highly recommended.