The twisty ending is reason enough to read this week’s New Title Tuesday selection, Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – not to mention that FX is planning to develop this into a TV series.
Publisher’s Summary – When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules–a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.
When his 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. From a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire, Bluebird, Bluebird is a rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas.
I admit I have a penchant for books set in the South having been born and reared there. Locke writes lovingly about the land and small towns of East Texas:
“Darren knew the power of home, knew what it meant to stand on the land where your forefathers had forged your future out of dirt, knew the power of what could be loved up by hand, how a harvest could change a fate. He knew what it felt like to stand on the back porch of his family homestead in Camilla and feel the breath of his ancestors in the trees, feel the power of gratitude in every stray breeze.”
And it is that love of place that lures our protagonist Darren to stay even though race relations in some areas are just as intrusive and oppressive as ever:
“His uncles adhered to those ancient rules of southern living, for they understood how easily a colored man’s general comportment could turn into a matter of life and death. Darren had always wanted to believe that theirs was the last generation to have to live that way, that change might trickle down from the White House. When in fact the opposite had proved to be true. In the wake of Obama, America had told on itself.”
The characters in Bluebird, Bluebird are multi-dimensional as is the plot. There are no simple answers. Locke understands that gender is also a thorny complication in the lives of women on the periphery of and relegated to poverty for no other reason than education and an entrenched patriarchy.
I didn’t know Attica Locke before I checked out Bluebird, Bluebird, but I was not surprised that she has won multiple awards in a variety of genres including the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction for Pleasantville and the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence for The Cutting Season.
It came as no surprise when I learned that Locke is a former writer and producer on Empire – one of my favorite evening soaps about a dysfunctional and somewhat diabolical hip-hop family. While Bluebird, Bluebird is not as campy as Empire, the creative story-line, the impact of race in America, and the compelling character arcs are apparent in both.
For a crime-solving vacay to rural east Texas, check out Bluebird, Bluebird.
Happy Reading, Susan C.
Also by Locke:
Pleasantville – Fifteen years after the events in Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration for his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime, thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.
When a girl goes missing on election night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville – a hamlet for upwardly mobile blacks on the north side of Houston – single father Jay is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.
The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of a candidate, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put the electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.
The Cutting Season – Caren Gray is the general manager of Belle Vie, a sprawling antebellum plantation where the past and the present coexist uneasily. The estate’s owners have turned the place into an eerie tourist attraction complete with full-dress reenactments and carefully restored slave quarters. Outside the gates, an ambitious corporation has been busy snapping up land from struggling families who have grown sugar cane for generations, replacing local employees with illegal laborers. Tensions mount when the body of a female migrant worker is found in a shallow grave on the edge of the property, her throat cut clean. The list of suspects is long, but when the cops zero in on a person of interest, Caren has a feeling they’re chasing the wrong leads. Putting herself at risk, she unearths startling new facts about an old mystery—the long-ago disappearance of a former slave—that has unsettling ties to the modern-day crime. In pursuit of the truth about Belle Vie’s history—and her own—Caren discovers secrets about both cases that an increasingly desperate killer will do anything to keep hidden.
Taut, hauntingly resonant, and beautifully written, The Cutting Season is at once a thoughtful meditation on how America reckons its past with its future and a high-octane page-turner that unfolds with tremendous skill and vision, demonstrating once again that Locke is “a writer wise beyond her years” (Los Angeles Times).
Black Water Rising – In the tradition of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles comes a powerful new voice in American fiction: Attica Locke delivers a brilliant debut thriller readers will not soon forget…
Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl, and he runs his fledgling law practice out a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with his path to the American Dream, carefully tucking away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.
Houston, Texas, 1981. It’s here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night he impulsively saves a drowning woman’s life – and opens a Pandora’s Box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston’s corporate powerbrokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.
With intelligent writing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax, Black Water Rising marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.