Books Reviews

Review: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

I had to read this book after hearing an interview with the author where she discussed being from Texas, and her ambivalence about the state. She now lives in California, but thinks of Texas as home, and she described the difficulty other people have relating to that. I still live in Texas and I relate to this ambivalence, having a long family history here yet feeling that Texas is going in the wrong direction.

Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger, maybe the first legacy black ranger after his uncle was one of the first black members of the almost 200 year old police force. Texas Rangers are legendary figures, but Darren is working in East Texas where racism is thriving. His status is hard for white East Texans to grasp, especially in the small town of Lark where Mathews is investigating the murder of a white woman and the possible murder of a black man. He is also suspended from his job, separated from his wife, and indulging a tendency to alcoholism.

Locke’s ambivalence toward Texas is evident in Mathews’s ambivalence at some major crossroads in his life– should he go back to his wife? Should he go back to law school? Should he continue this investigation, which is being botched by the local sheriff? In Locke’s own words: “Darren’s ambivalence about his home state is a mirror for my own and I also meant it to be a stand-in for black folks’ ambivalence sometimes about where we fit in America — to what degree is this place truly our birthright and to what degree can we afford to feel passionate patriotism for a place that frequently shows us such disdain?”

The town of Lark has a long history of racism and some very tangled family histories that cross the racial divide. On the facade it is divided very clearly, but people are more complex than their racist tendencies. Ranger Mathews sets about solving the crimes, undoing his suspension, and figuring out his marriage and familial obligations. Locke’s writing is engaging and her characters are complex. I have watched enough CSI and Law and Order to know that suspension of disbelief is key to crime dramas, and you will need to bring some of that along here. Mathews’s behavior on the job is pretty hard to believe, e.g. bringing along the widow of a murder victim along on the investigation, but it’s worth suspending disbelief to get at the nitty gritty of the characters and the story.

I would definitely add this to my recommended reading list of Texas books, and I can’t wait to see what comes next in this series. Thanks to Netgalley and Mulholland Books for sending me a complimentary e-galley of this book. My opinions are my own.

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