Winner of the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award 2018
2018 Edgar Award Winner for best novel
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.
Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is under the cosh both at work and in his personal life. Waiting on a Grand Jury to see if they indict a friend, his part in the situation has put his job on the line. This and the pressures of his job are affecting his marriage. His career in the Rangers was not the one he’d initially pursued and that hasn’t helped. Still, Darren loves what he does, it’s important to him. So, when he gets a call from a friend in the FBI, he sees it as an opportunity to show he’s worthy of remaining a Ranger.
The call is about Michael Wright, a black lawyer from Chicago, found drowned in the bayou behind a local cafe in the small town of Lark. A week later local white girl, Missy, is also found dead. The local police seem to have written off Wright’s death as an accident. Matthews sets off to investigate. Lark, not unexpectedly to Darren, is a town openly prejudice and with it an inherent violence where crossing racial lines or digging up secrets can get you killed.
This is the first Attica Locke book that I have read. She has woven racial tensions into her story of crime incredibly well. Lark’s white population is in the main openly racist and Darren, a black ranger, attracts a lot of attention. The racial conflict in Bluebird, Bluebird gives a real sense of tension right up until it’s final pages. Lark is a small town, everyone knows each other’s business and this brings added danger to Darren with every interaction especially, as to investigate the case properly, he must engage with Lark’s racist, violent white population. The scenes when Darren enters the Icehouse, a local bar, frequented by members of the Aryan Brotherhood, not only demonstrate this perfectly they are truly terrifying.
Locke writes very well about what Texas, in particular east Texas, and law enforcement mean to Darren personally. That he can still be a proud east Texan whilst knowing that there is still even today such deep, racial unease in there. He had originally studied law in Chicago but after hearing news of an horrific hate crime knew that he had to become a Ranger. He believed and still does that it is possible for black Texans to live peacefully alongside white Texans indeed it is their right to do so. Locke’s understanding and ability to get across the complexities of living in the South, the relationships between black and white, between black southerners with their hometowns is remarkable.
The crime is at the heart of Bluebird, Bluebird and whilst it is a vehicle for Locke to explore what life can and is like for black Americans it is not sidelined. You may make work out some of what happened but there is enough complexity to keep the reader busy and surprised. It is the atmosphere and sense of place that Locke fills her novel with which gives a rich depth to the book. Darren is a good character and I liked Geneva but some of the characters did not have a great deal of depth, although well drawn, and really I’m not sure it mattered.
Bluebird, Bluebird is a really good, solid start for Attica Locke’s Texas Ranger and the small, bitter twist at the end neatly sets up the second book in the Highway 59 series. I enjoyed Bluebird, Bluebird and I have my copy of Heaven, My Home on my shelf already.
Whether you read this book, this series or other books by Attica Locke I do think this writer is a must for all readers and not just crime fiction lovers.
A Virtual Crime Book Club
Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59, Book 1) by Attica Locke was our latest book club read. For all information about the Virtual Crime Book Club visit The Virtual Crime Book Club where you will find links to our zoom meetings, how to sign up and much more.
Here’s the discussion Bluebird, Bluebird but beware spoilers! The book club met on Monday 22nd February 2021 at 8 pm GMT (UK time zone).
Our next meeting will be Monday, 19th April at 8pm (UK time zone). The voting for April is now closed but why check out The Virtual Crime Book Club and join us? You will need to be a member of the book club to get your zoom invite so please do join HERE. We’d love to see you!
Published: Serpent’s Tail (23/03/2018) | ISBN: 9781781257685
Attica Locke is the author of Bluebird, Bluebird which won the CWA Steel Dagger and an Edgar Award; Pleasantville, which won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction; Black Water Rising, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and shortlisted for the Orange Prize; and The Cutting Season, a national bestseller and winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. She worked on the adaptation of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series about the Central Park Five, When They See Us. A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.
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