This recommendation comes from Bill Selnes, who blogs at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan.
I chose Bluebird, Bluebird this year primarily because of the uniqueness of the sleuth. I think Maxine would have been fascinated and delighted by Darren Matthews, a classic Texas Ranger, who is African American. He confounds many rural white Texans who profoundly respect the Rangers but retain prejudice against black Americans.
I expect she would also have appreciated Attica Locke’s skill in weaving current American race relations into the murder investigation.
Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird
(1. – 931.) Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke – After seeing Bluebird, Bluebird on many 2017 lists of best books and enjoying the reading of Black Water Rising I asked Santa for Bluebird, Bluebird and it was under the Christmas tree. I am glad I received the book. It is a wonderful book which has rightly propelled Locke into authorial superstardom.
It is a classic American Western with the lone lawman, Darren Mathews, fighting a powerful criminal gang. Mathews is a big man with a .45 on his hip and a 5 tipped star badge upon his chest riding into Lark, Texas in his Texas sized truck. Among contemporary Western American fictional lawmen I thought of Sheriff Walt Longmire from the series by Craig Johnson.
That the lawman is African American and the gang is the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas brings the old West into the 21st Century. Too often I find mysteries with a police officer acting on their own not credible but Locke has created a believable plot.
Making Mathews a Texas Ranger cements the iconic Western theme.
His family has deep roots in East Texas. They are a part of the black establishment of the region with a family home still at the center of their lives no matter where they work.
Continuing another Western tradition Mathews has a lovely wife back in Houston who, weary of worrying about her husband riding into danger, has demanded he leave the Rangers or she will leave the marriage.
Mathews thinks of resigning from the Rangers and returning to law school.
Yet he cannot resist the lure of solving a double murder in Lark. Michael Wright, a black man with roots in Texas, but now resident in Chicago, is found dead in a bayou outside Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, a country cafe. He has been brutally beaten. Two days Missy Dale, a young white woman, is found dead in the same bayou behind the same café.
The story veers from the simple blacks and whites of Western lore into the complexity of racial relationships in the 21st Century of rural Texas.
The black residents know the local white sheriff, in a different American tradition, is looking to arrest one of them for the murder. Little effort will be made to investigate Michael’s death.
Mathews, a man of stubborn integrity, will not abide an investigation looking only for a black killer as resolution.
With the authority given him by his status as a Ranger he probes more deeply into the lives of white folk and black folk. What does not fit evil Southern tradition of exacting vengeance on black woman when a white woman is attacked is that the black man was killed before the white woman.
Locke shows the discomfort the white residents have with a black Ranger but equally the respect they have for his badge. The world of race relations is being turned upside down.
I have not even discussed the remarkable characters who fill the book. Just one will suffice to illustrate the superb characterization.
Geneva, almost 70 years old, grieves her husband Joe, murdered 6 years ago. The book opens with her visiting his grave:
Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest with Her Heavenly Father. Late morning sunlight pinpricked through the trees, dotting a constellation of lights on the blanket of pine needles as Geneva’s feet as she snaked the cord between Mayva’s sister and her husband, Leland, Father and Brother in Christ. She gave the cord a good tug, making her way up the modest hill, careful not to step on the graves themselves, only the well-worn grooves between the headstones, which were spaced at haphazard and odd angles, like the teeth of a pauper.
Locke has created a Western lawman for this century in Mathews. I hope Bluebird, Bluebird is the first in a series. I want to read more of his adventures.