The first novel in a thrilling, timely new series Highway 59, about the cost of justice in the American South.
‘In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke has both mastered the thriller and exceeded it. Ranger Darren Mathews is tough, honour-bound, and profoundly alive in corrupt world. I loved everything about this book’ – Ann Patchett
Attica Locke’s Pleasantville, the sequel to her nominated debut novel Blackwater Rising was one of the standout crime novels of 2015. It went on to win the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2016 and was long-listed for the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction. That book centred around race, politics and crime in Houston. In her latest book, Bluebird Bluebird, Locke moves away from the urban and well into the rural. The majority of the action set in the little East Texas town of Lark where it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Darren Matthews has followed in his uncle’s footsteps to become a Texas Ranger. The Texas Rangers are a highly respected, statewide police force in Texas. But few in the force are black and this creates challenges for Matthews and the work that he wants to pursue involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. When the book opens, Matthews has turned in his badge but is convinced by an old friend in the FBI to take a look at two murders in Lark, the first of a young black man from Chicago and the second of a young, female local a few days later. He is given a short timeframe to investigate and permission to wear the badge. Matthews is not surprised to learn that the police are investigating the second murder and not the first and that local black community members are in the frame. When he arrives in town he finds not only the wife of the murdered man looking for answers but a community divided strongly on racial lines but deeply connected by shared history.
In Bluebird Bluebird Locke digs deep into the psyche of her State, of the fraught relationships between the white and black populations, the history that underlies that relationship and the pervasiveness of racism in every conversation, action and decision. Matthews, her protagonist, understands these divisions and continually butts against them in his search for the truth. This in itself creates a huge amount of tension in a situation that is tense enough to start with.
Bluebird Bluebird is top notch crime fiction. Locke once again uses the genre – both the crimes themselves and the way in which they are investigated – to shine a light on the society in which they occur. Matthews is a classically strong, resourceful but conflicted and compromised character and Locke never lets him off the hook, particularly in a finale which leaves both him and the readers dangling.
Political thriller and social comment combine in this thrilling third novel from Orange Prize shortlisted author of Black Water Rising.
It's 1996, Bill Clinton has just been re-elected and in Houston a mayoral election is looming. As usual the campaign focuses on Pleasantville - the African-American neighbourhood of the city that has swung almost every race since it was founded to house a growing black middle class in 1949.
Attica Locke’s first novel Black Water Rising, a legal thriller involving big oil, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and heralded the arrival of a new talent. In Pleasantville, Locke’s third novel, she returns fifteen years later to the protagonist of her debut, Jay Porter, and drops him into the middle of a mix of murder, politics and general skulduggery back in his hometown.
Pleasantville is a suburb in Houston, established in the post-war period for aspiring black families. The residents have spent years fighting for the amenities that other communities took for granted. But fifty years later things are starting to change. It is 1996, and as Clinton is swept back into power, Axel Hathorne, former Chief of Police and son of one of the founding families of Pleasantville, finds himself having to fight in a run-off election for Mayor against his main rival, the DA Sandy Wolcott. He expects to have Pleasantville behind him in the election, but things are not that simple anymore.
Jay Porter, the central player in Pleasantville, is a fascinating, well-drawn character. A Houston local and former social activist, Jay is struggling to raise his two children following the death of his wife from cancer. Jay built his career on class actions suits following his success against Cole Oil in Black Water Rising. But what he considers his last case, brought on behalf of the citizens of Pleasantville against a local chemical company, is foundering as he struggles to stay focussed. When a girl goes missing on election night and Axel’s nephew is accused of her murder, Jay is drawn in and finds himself exactly where he does not want to be – back in court.
The murder mystery, while driving the plot, is not the central concern of the book. While it ostensibly about a local mayoral election, it is also more broadly about the American political landscape. In its exploration of the suburb, its residents and the way they have changed over time, it Pleasantville is also about broader social change.
Pleasantville has everything - politics, murder, mystery, courtroom drama, and a deep emotional core in its focus on Jay Porter and his relationships. Locke effortlessly keeps all of these elements in the air, revealing elements of the plot sparingly, dropping twists like bombshells. Pleasantville is crime writing as it should be – engaging, compulsive and surprising but never losing sight of deeper social and human drivers that sit behind the action.