Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Two bodies have turned up in quick succession in a small town in hardscrabble East Texas. The sheriff is inclined to treat them as unconnected. But not so Darren Matthews, a Texas Ranger who has come to town at the urging of a friend in the FBI who suspects larger forces at work there. An African-American, Darren fears a connection with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), a violent racist gang enriched by drug smuggling. However, Darren is on suspension from the Texas Rangers because he is suspected of involvement in the death of a known member of the ABT.

Nonetheless, without authorization, he sets out to investigate the two deaths. Once in town, he encounters resistance from the sheriff and worrisome rumblings from the local people. No one, not the African-Americans who congregate at Geneva’s cafe nor the white men who hang out in a nearby bar, is willing to help Darren at first. He’s an outsider. He doesn’t belong.

Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59 #1) by Attica Locke (2017) 318 pages ★★★★★ 

Winner of the 2018 Edgar Allen Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America

This is the setup in Bluebird, Bluebird, the new novel from the widely acclaimed writer Attica Locke. Her title comes from a blues song of the same name sung by John Lee Hooker. (“Bluebird, bluebird, take this letter down South for me.”) Music, especially the blues, plays a large role in the background of this gripping murder mystery.

Bluebird, Bluebird highlights the uneasy relationships between black and white in a Texas town still in the vise of history. “Forty-some years after the death of Jim Crow, not much had changed,” writes Locke. Given the setup, it would be natural to expect the two deaths (which are in fact murders) to be racially motivated. Race is a central factor—but in ways that are too complicated to imagine as the story begins to unfold.

Attica Locke was born in Houston. She makes her home in the Los Angeles area, where she has accumulated numerous credits as a screenwriter. Bluebird, Bluebird is her third novel.

For further reading

Previously I reviewed two other novels by Attica Locke:

You’ll find this book on The 40 best books of the decade from 2010-19.

This is also one of the many Good books about racism reviewed on this site. It’s also one of The 20 best books of 2018 reviewed here.

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