Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke, Little, Brown and Company, 2017, 245 pp
Heaven, My Home, Attica Locke, Muholland Books, 2019, 284 pp
I read these two excellent books fairly close together, so I have combined my reviews for this post.
My Bookie Babes reading group chose Heaven, My Home for our June read. Since it is a sequel to Bluebird, Bluebird I decided to read that first. I had tried an earlier book by Attica Locke but somehow put it down and never finished it. The author is a Black woman born and raised in Houston, TX, who also writes and produces for TV and film. She won an Edgar Award for Bluebird, Bluebird.
This novel is set in Houston and on Highway 59, the main highway between Houston and the Louisiana border in East Texas. Darren Mathews, a Black Texas ranger based in Houston, is in trouble. He has been suspended and his wife has left him. He takes off on his own to Lark, a small town in Hwy 59, where he becomes involved in solving a double murder, one Black man and one white woman.
Attica Locke rivals Sara Paretsky with her large number of characters and her complex plots. After a few chapters, I had to go back to the beginning and make a character list as I read in order to piece together the dark relationships between all those characters. Once I did that, I was consumed by a story that examines race relations in a small town, the Aryan Brotherhood of white supremacists, family feuds, and the relations between the Texas Rangers and the Houston FBI.
My goodness, it was a great tale that confronts American racism head on. As James Baldwin taught us, it is never simple, always twisted and complicated, always destructive to human life and happiness.
Though Darren Mathews solves the murders, the book ends on a cliffhanger complete with foreshadowing. I was glad to go right on to the next book.
Heaven, My Home picks right up from where Bluebird, Bluebird left off. Without giving too much away, Texas Ranger Darren Mathews realized at the end of the former book that his birth mother, with whom he had always had a fractured relationship, seems to hold an important piece of evidence. This item never came up when Darren was cleared of the charges that had gotten him suspended from the Rangers.
Now he is back with his wife, a situation that is fraught in its own right. On top of that he feels he must pay more attention to his mom lest she get him in trouble again. Part of the deal made with his wife is that he spend more time at home and drink less.
Bored out of his mind with his current tedious desk job for the Rangers in Houston, he leaps at an assignment to investigate a case of a missing child in another small town on Hwy 59. Pressure builds as Darren tries to keep things cool with his wife and to stay in touch with his mom while he pursues his own agenda in the investigation.
I am currently reading a biography of James Baldwin which makes it starkly clear the pressures under which Black people live as they pursue life, balancing family, personal ambition, love and pretty much constant discrimination. Such a life delivers bout after bout of negativity and uncertainty about self. Attica Locke weaves such troubles into her main character with the sensitivity of a literary writer while she delivers nonstop action and plot.
As in the first book, things quickly get tense as all get out. Darren is a guy who finds his way around the bureaucratic and political restraints put upon him by his job, all the while dealing with impossible personal issues. He often goes off script and follows up clues that no one else finds relevant. He is always right but causes the reader a good amount of worry. Plus he has a weakness for alcohol.
In addition to having to find a lost child whose stepfather is a small time drug dealer and a White Supremacist wannabe, our hero must sort out the connection to a community of Native Americans living just outside the town. Things do indeed get out of hand fast.
I was so glad I had read Bluebird, Bluebird first. Only one of the Bookie Babes had also done so. The rest were pretty confused about a story that is complex in itself but carries baggage from the earlier book.
Darren saves the day again but the book ends on another cliffhanger, so I bet there will be a sequel. I wish I had it right now but am more than willing to give Attica Locke time to write it.