I’ve long contended that the best mysteries and thrillers are the ones that take you to a place you’re not familiar with and wouldn’t know anything about if you weren’t dropped deep into the area via the book. Think of the works of Jo Nesbo and his view of Oslo, Norway, or the wonderful series of books involving Dr. Siri Paiboun in Cambodia, written by Colin Cotterill, and how the books take you to a different part of the world and let you absorb the atmosphere, for good and bad.
Add to that list the new book by Attica Locke, Bluebird, Bluebird, which is set in the exotic (to me, anyway) area of East Texas.
Like many a mystery, this one turns on a troubled investigator who’s gotten in trouble with his law enforcement job and is investigating a complicated and potentially dangerous case more or less on his own, but Darren Matthews, the protagonist of Bluebird, Bluebird, is not your typical noirish hero.
He’s an African American man who’s working as a Texas Ranger, a difficult job made more difficult by his race and his background. He’s been suspended from his job with the Rangers because he went out of his way to help a man whose granddaughter was being harassed by a member of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood, and the harasser was subsequently murdered, making Darren a potential witness in the case. The last thing he needs is to go home to the small town of Lark, and involve himself in another messy, racially-tinged murder case, but that’s what he finds himself doing.
Two people, an African American lawyer from Chicago, with roots in the Lark area, and a white woman who’s a resident of Lark, are both found murdered in the bayou within days of each other. As Darren tries to find out what really happened and who’s responsible for the murders, he runs up against the power structure of the town, the local chapters of the Texas Aryan Brotherhood, and a lot of people who don’t want him around and especially don’t want him digging into the secrets of the town, and who aren’t afraid to make it clear that bad things could happen to him if he sticks around. Darren’s sense of duty, his understanding of the way things are done in this town, and his stubborn desire to see justice done propel him through a very dangerous situation.
Atmospheric and filled with local detail, Bluebird, Bluebird is a suspenseful read that might, we hope, turn into the beginning of a series involving this intriguing character and his milieu.