"If I were limited to bringing only one book to you it would be
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke and from eagle-eyed Mulholland Books. . . . As poignant as this story is, it's Locke's elegiac writing and her characters that make this book unforgettable, even beautiful. Locke's feelings of being black are so fervent it makes Bluebird, Bluebird a work of literature that will make you cry and read slowly to delay the ending."— Jeffrey Mannix, The Durango Telegraph "A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is a timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America."— Deep South Magazine "Great...Mysterious, well written, very unusual. Fascinating twists, moods and observations. Interesting perspective on life and small-town racism and crime."— The Charlotte News "A sharp crime story . . . A detective story steeped with history . . . Locke has a wonderful grasp of how to tell a story about the past. . . . Locke's ear for people makes seeing how the past redoubles and affects the present a constant delight."— Nathan Jefferson, Los Angeles Review of Books "timely thriller about race and justice"— PureWow
"I don’t read many mysteries but I’d follow Texas Ranger Matthews anywhere."—
Ann Patchett, Elle Magazine "Richly realized and deliciously labyrinthine."— Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle "a gripping page-turner with suspenseful hooks and an old-school, cinematic feel"— The Riveter "Between the driving plot, the complex characters, and the righteous anger, Locke's latest, Bluebird, Bluebird, has exceeded my highest expectations."— MysteryPeople "[Locke's] mystery novels are top notch...the book's hero, a black Texas Ranger, and his fight for justice make this a page-turner that brings Texas into sharp focus."— Bustle "A spectacular novel with so much more to offer than just mystery."— Bustle "A native Texan herself, Locke knows how such racial animus can breed an atmosphere of dread, and she employs it deftly to spark suspense."— The Austin Chronicle "Locke's mesmerizing new novel bears all the hallmarks of modern crime fiction: the alcoholic protagonist with the damaged marriage; the townsfolk who close rank against outsiders; the small-town law enforcement agent with murky loyalties. But Bluebird, Bluebird is a true original in the way it twists these conventions into a narrative of exhilarating immediacy ... Locke has a vivid sense of characterisation, using everything from dialect to the fabric of one's clothes to make subtle class distinctions and depict mental states ... Locke is building a compelling body of work. In this age of enduring and renewed racial tensions, we need her voice more than ever."— Esi Edugyan,
Attica Locke has lived in Los Angeles since 1993, spending much of her time as a screenwriter for movies and television. But when it comes to writing fiction, her imagination still dwells in the South, where she grew up. In the small East Texas town where Locke set her propulsive fourth novel,
Bluebird, Bluebird, an unofficial system of casual segregation persists. White folks patronize a bar called the Icehouse, while African-American residents congregate at Geneva's, a ramshackle café. That static, uneasy coexistence is strained by the discovery of two murders -- of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. Mysteries often revolve around the search for justice, but the stories Locke tells are more frequently propelled by the call of social justice. She says the first time she read To Kill a Mockingbird, she strongly identified with Scout. Like Harper Lee's young heroine, Locke is the daughter of a southern lawyer focused on civil rights, but she also went one better than Scout and married a public defender. "What is special to me about law is that it is the place where we decide as a society what we will allow and what we won't allow," says Locke, sitting in a Pasadena café. "It's why we have to define some things as a hate crime, to be able to say: this is such an abomination it deserves a special category." Darren Matthews, the African-American Texas Ranger who investigates the murders in Bluebird, Bluebird, is a specialist in crimes with a racial component. After graduating from an elite college up north, Matthews considered becoming a lawyer but instead returned home to become a law enforcer. Now he finds himself wrangling with a local white supremacist group called the Aryan Brotherhood, unraveling a double murder mystery, and vacillating between his belief in the law as a fallible but honorably intentioned mechanism for uncovering the truth and a mounting suspicion that America's entire judicial system is "a lie black folks need protection from." Locke herself is torn by this struggle between trust and cynicism. "I think every black person's relationship to justice is complicated," she suggests. But Locke comes from a lineage of landowning Texans who rejected the Great Migration to the North and chose to stand their ground in the South. Looking at a family tree recently, she says, "I saw members of my family who became professors and state senators and who started schools where there weren't schools. There really was a sense of civic engagement, a feeling that this place is ours as much as anybody else's." Locke wanted to knit that sense of black rootedness into the novel; Darren Matthews, she writes, can "feel the breath of his ancestors in the trees." Bluebird was finished before the 2016 presidential election, but the book's crackling racial tension feels horribly well timed. The Texas Rangers leadership in the book refuses to acknowledge race has any bearing on investigations, making it near impossible for Matthews to do his job. Locke believes that this unwillingness to confront the unresolved legacies of white domination "infantilizes us and stops us from discussing important issues because we have no language or permission to talk deeply about it." The strange intimacy of black and white in the South -- "this familial thing that is odd and hard to capture" -- is precisely what fascinates her. Tucked inside the suspenseful twists of a mystery novel is a portrait of a place where white men's lives "revolved around the black folks they claimed to hate but couldn't leave alone." Locke explains, "If you think of the idea that black women metaphorically nursed this nation into being, if you think that black labor brought this country into being, it's like how you feel about your parents -- no matter how much you hate them, you kind of know you owe every damn thing to them. It is my belief that there are some white folks who . . . cannot tolerate that level of power, and so it gets twisted around into a sick hatred. Underneath that is a love that can't be understood or named." Although she'd been writing fiction since she was a kid, scribbling tales on the back of her father's legal stationery, Locke didn't think about writing a novel until 2004, when she grew disillusioned with her life as a Hollywood screenwriter. "Nothing ever got made, but I was very well paid," she shrugs. "But I wasn't really being myself." So Locke and her husband took out a second mortgage on their house while she wrote her debut novel, Black Water Rising, which earned glowing endorsements from legends James Ellroy and George Pelecanos and a nomination for an Edgar, the mystery genre's equivalent to the Oscar. Black Water Rising wove the history of American race relations into the tale of a lawyer and former civil rights activist ensnared in a murder case. "I was really trying to write a simple, slick thriller," Locke says with a throaty laugh. Instead she found herself sobbing on the floor of a Palm Springs hotel room as she realized how vulnerable the story's themes of racial conflict made her feel. "I was about to color myself to the world. Which seems dumb, because I'm clearly black -- but I was about to say to the world, I am not incidentally black. This is my worldview and it is tense in here. I am afraid in here." A stint writing for Fox's hit show Empire has given her the courage to try to translate this painful vision of racial discord and power imbalance into television. While she writes a sequel to Bluebird, she is also percolating a pitch for a TV show based on the book series. Even talking about the project scares her. "I am terrified that I will lay out these issues that feel life-and- death to me and it will be met with indifference by the industry, by executives," Locke says, voice wavering. "This is a show about the existential crisis in a black man's soul. If I get into a room with people going 'Nyaah,' it will break my heart." After a pause, Locke adds, "The good news about me is that I will be terrified and do it anyway."
Reviewer: Joy Press
The Barnes & Noble Review
Locke writes in a blues-infused idiom that lends a strain of melancholy and a sense of loss to her lyrical style.
The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
At the start of this absorbing series launch set in East Texas from Edgar-finalist Locke (Pleasantville), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is suspended from the force because he rushed, while off duty, to the aid of a friend in a dispute that turned violent. Then, against his family’s wishes and the law, he determines to check out a racially charged crime a few hours up the highway. In the desolate town of Lark, the bodies of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman have surfaced in a bayou within a few days of each other. Darren discovers that the town revolves around two prominent figures: Wally Jefferson, proprietor of a white supremacist bar and close confidant to the county sheriff, and Wally’s neighbor Geneva Sweet, a black business owner with her own brand of authority. As Darren investigates the two murders, he becomes immersed in Lark’s fraught history. Darren must deal with his conflicting loyalties to his family and to Texas, as well as his identity as a black man, as he struggles for justice in this tale of racism, hatred, and, surprisingly, love. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Sept.)
Darren Matthews was born and raised in rural East Texas and is intimately acquainted with the racial tensions in its small towns. On suspension for an incident involving a friend who may have killed a man, the African American Texas Ranger is asked by an old FBI friend to look into the deaths of a black Chicago lawyer and a local white woman who were both found dead days apart in a bayou near Lark, TX. Once his boss learns of his new assignment, Mathews is reinstated and given authority to investigate. Locke, winner of the Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction (Pleasantville) and a writer and producer of the show Empire, has woven an atmospheric, convoluted mystery seasoned with racial tension and family loyalty. VERDICT Locke is a gifted author, and her intriguing and compelling crime novel will keep readers engrossed. [See Prepub Alert, 3/27/17.]—Sandra Knowles, South Carolina State Lib., Columbia
What appears at first to be a double hate crime in a tiny Texas town turns out to be much more complicated—and more painful—than it seems.With a degree from Princeton and two years of law school under his belt, Darren Mathews could have easily taken his place among the elite of African-American attorneys. Instead, he followed his uncle's lead to become a Texas Ranger. "What is it about that damn badge?" his estranged wife, Lisa, asks. "It was never intended for you." Darren often wonders if she's right but nonetheless finds his badge useful "for working homicides with a racial element—murders with a particularly ugly taint." The East Texas town of Lark is small enough to drive through "in the time it [takes] to sneeze," but it's big enough to have had not one, but two such murders. One of the victims is a black lawyer from Chicago, the kind of crusader-advocate Darren could have been if he'd stayed on his original path; the other is a young white woman, a local resident. Both battered bodies were found in a nearby bayou. His job already jeopardized by his role in a race-related murder case in another part of the state, Darren eases his way into Lark, where even his presence is enough to raise hackles among both the town's white and black residents; some of the latter, especially, seem reluctant and evasive in their conversations with him. Besides their mysterious resistance, Darren also has to deal with a hostile sheriff, the white supremacist husband of the dead woman, and the dead lawyer's moody widow, who flies into town with her own worst suspicions as to what her husband was doing down there. All the easily available facts imply some sordid business that could cause the whole town to explode. But the deeper Darren digs into the case, encountering lives steeped in his home state's musical and social history, the more he begins to distrust his professional—and personal—instincts. Locke, having stockpiled an acclaimed array of crime novels (Pleasantville, 2015, etc.), deserves a career breakthrough for this deftly plotted whodunit whose writing pulses throughout with a raw, blues-inflected lyricism.