You can tell by the languid poetry of the prologue of Bluebird, Bluebird that Attica Locke isn’t afraid to challenge her readers. As Geneva Sweet talks to her dead husband and son in the graveyard, bringing them offerings of fried pies and songs, she draws you in with deep characterisation and a rich sense of place. You’re not immediately sure why you’re here, but you’re intrigued.
Then you learn that two bodies have been washed up from the bayou in recent weeks, the first a male black lawyer, and the second a poor white woman. Texas Ranger Darren Matthews, currently on suspension, decides to investigate and uncovers a complex web of racial and personal conflicts going back decades.
I loved the prose style and the complex personal stories in this book. Darren Matthews has a unique perspective, shaped by the two uncles who brought him up. He is from a family of affluent black Texas landowners, one uncle a lawyer, the other a ranger, and he feels a strong attachment to his home state. The racism he sees makes him only more determined to assert his right to be there. His story does wander perilously close to cliché at times (drinks too much, wife wants him home more) but there is also much to think about and a twist which nicely sets up the next book in the planned series.
The portrayal of small town life is vivid – the racism, the feuds, but also the traditions and culture. And yet – in the latter part of the book, I found my interest wavering. The plot got a little messy and contradictory, as did Darren’s behaviour. When he tries to provoke a confrontation with a group of racists and the scene fizzles out, he wonders why he did it. I wondered whether those were his thoughts or the author’s.
On balance though, I’d rather have a crime novel that’s ambitious, that evokes a world, that raises big questions and outruns its flaws, than a clockwork plot populated by stock characters (I seem to have picked up – and discarded – a lot of these lately.) I haven’t read Attica Locke before but I definitely want to read some more now.
I received a copy of Bluebird, Bluebird from the publisher via Netgalley.
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