“Bluebird, Bluebird: a Novel” (Mullholland Books), by Attica Locke
Attica Locke’s incisive look at racial issues reaches another milestone in the gripping “Bluebird, Bluebird.” Locke unflinchingly illustrates the intersection of race and justice as seen in an insular community in East Texas. The author packs the excellent novel with believable characters whose motives often are tied up in the complex morass of history and family.
Darren Mathews was raised by proud twin brothers, one of whom was a defense lawyer and professor of Constitutional law, the other a Texas Ranger — members of “a tribe going back generations in rural east Texas, black men for whom self-regard was both a natural state of being and survival technique.” Despite a Princeton degree and two years of law school, Darren also became a Texas Ranger, a job that has never set well with his family nor his estranged wife. But then there are the “homicides with a racial element — murders with a particularly ugly taint” that intrigue Darren.
Although he’s on suspended duty, Darren talks his boss into sending him to the tiny town of Lark, Texas, where the bodies of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman were found a few days apart in the same bayou. Racism simmers in Lark, from the clientele at the white supremacist bar to the local sheriff who resents Darren’s intrusion into his investigation. Darren also meets resistance from white wealthy businessman Wally Jefferson and black restaurant owner Geneva Sweet, whose lives have been intricately entwined for decades. Darren’s investigation centers on “the truth, inconvenient and complicated” regarding the two deaths as well as his own life.
Locke’s superior storytelling excels in “Bluebird, Bluebird” as the author deftly moves the brisk plot that centers on racism as well as greed, hate and even love. Strong, unforgettable characters — each of whom has intricate backstories — balance the tense action. Darren makes a sturdy hero, capable of heading a series.