Tuesday, 16 April 2019

ATTICA LOCKE - BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD (HIGHWAY 59, BOOK 1) (2017)


Synopsis/blurb....

Southern fables usually go the other way around. A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead. 

But 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 ambivalent 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 home. 

So when allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark, where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou. First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman, and it's 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.

An interesting and entertaining read and my first taste of Attica Locke's work.

Two deaths in Lark, East Texas, one black, one white and Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger wants to investigate. Even though he's in a bit of trouble with his bosses, an investigation is what we get.

Racial undertones, a small divided community, a hostile welcome from both sides, a drink problem, a suspension, an earlier incident, marital difficulties - more than one, family histories - more than one, job insecurity, infidelity, power, privilege, standing, politics, perceptions, white supremacists - the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, interviews, reluctance, forced cooperation, local law enforcement, violence, drugs, previous deaths, motive, secrets, stored resentments, a lot more besides and eventually answers.

I quite liked the book overall. The initial set-up of the crimes kind of leads you to believe that there is a rather simple motive and solution to the crimes, which inevitably then has you feeling the opposite is the truth. All is revealed at the end and one of the characters who is a little bit hinky throughout is part of the denouement. There's nothing I could quite put my finger on about him, other than he was a bit off.

I liked the setting, which with it's race divisions offers plenty of scope for drama. I'm not too sure if I enjoyed the main character's company or not. Darren Mathews is flawed - inevitably. He's rather too fond of the drink which effects his judgement and spills over into his working life. He's committed to his work and has a thirst (not only for booze) but justice. His family history relating to his uncles and his upbringing are important to him and have helped mould him. His mother is the wild card. His wife is tired, impatient and not too understanding.

The investigation seemed to be a little too personal for him, there's a lack of objectivity on display and what was he thinking allowing one of the victim's wife to get so close both to him personally and to his enquiries. That said it's all part of the outsider element trying to penetrate a small community.

Post-investigation, Locke serves up another twist, which I kind of feel is going to feature at some point in a future book further down the line. (The second Highway book featuring Darren Mathews - Heaven, My Home drops later this year.) It was a twist I could have done without TBH. I'm not especially a fan of this kind of snare/writer tactic to keep a reader hooked. If anything it makes me dig my heels in and switch off.

On balance, I found a lot more to like and enjoy than grumble about. I enjoyed the writing, the plot worked, the characters had substance and flesh and were more than stereotypes. I guess I'll read the next in the series if I cross paths with it, as I like the blurb I've seen. I don't think I'd be too bothered about back-tracking on the author's previous books.

4 from 5

Read in April, 2019
Published - 2017
Page count - 249
Source - Net Galley, courtesy of publisher Mulholland Books
Format - ePub read on laptop.

19 comments:

  1. Oh, Col, I've been wanting to read this one for a while. In fact, I'm a bit ashamed I haven't yet. I like Locke's work very much, and I do keep hearing good things about this one. Glad you enjoyed it.

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    1. I'm sure you will get to it in good time, Margot and I'm fairly positive you will enjoy it too.

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  2. Not an author I know anything about, but one you're tempting me to try.

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    1. I was pretty sure you had read this one already? Maybe not then. I'm fairly sure this one won an Edgar Award.

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  3. I liked the book more than you. It was my favourite fiction read of 2018. I enjoyed the twist on the classic lone American West Texas Ranger who is black instead of white. The white residents of the area must face the conflict between their racial prejudice and their love and respect of the Rangers.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Bill. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as you did. I guess we all are going to get different mileage out of the books we read in common. We can compare notes after we've both read the next one featuring Mathews!

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  4. I read this book. My response to it was much the same as yours. However, unlike you, after reading this one, and curious about her style and voice, I bought and read an earlier book of hers. I wasn't as impressed. But as you indicated, the reading experience is subjective. Sometimes a story speaks to a special part of us. Sometimes it doesn't. Just the same, I look forward to reading her next book. And I hope that's a good thing for both of us.

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    1. Jim, I'm slowly coming to accept that I'm not going to be able to read everything - hence drawing a line at her back catalogue. Sorry to hear it didn't work so well for you. Never mind the second of this series awaits us both later this year.

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  5. I do plan to read this book (someday, hoping to find a copy at the book sale), and the length sounds perfect.

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    1. I think the published format might be slightly longer, but it isn't a long book really. Fingers crossed you snag a copy.

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  6. You got to it before I did! Is on my Kindle and really must read it, you certainly made it sound worthwhile, even if not quite your perfect book.

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    1. More to like than dislike. I hope you read it soon. I'd be curious to know what you think of it.

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  7. This has been on my to read list for a while, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

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  8. Got it on my list! Sounds like a recipe for chaos!

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    1. You do fear for the Ranger during some tense moments. More to like than not, I'd be keen to hear what you think if you get to it.

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  9. Cool, got it in my Amazon cart. Hopefully it'll be here by the time I finish Stanley's "Fighting Talk" & Brazill's "Kill Me Quick"

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