Friday, January 27, 2017

Book Review: Darktown by Thomas Mullen

A Solid Mystery Set in the Pre-Civil Rights South

Set in 1948 Atlanta, Darktown is the story of two of that city’s first black police officers (Boggs and Smith) who investigate the death of a young black woman when no else seemed to care.  In the process, they run afoul of Dunlow, a brutal, racist white officer, while Rakestraw, Dunlow’s young partner, seems caught in the middle in this confrontation.

Darktown’s depiction of the life of blacks at this time and place is, simply put, gut-wrenching.  White officers are free to abuse the law, and the excesses that are portrayed are difficult to read.  But it is, in my opinion, worth the emotional effort.  Layered on top of this taut look at race and the law is a murder mystery.  While the core of the mystery seemed a bit predictable, Mullen added enough twists in the details to make it a worthy addition to the historical setting. 

The pacing was good, although I have to admit to some difficulty getting started.  Early on, the book seemed to be disconnected anecdotes and loosely related asides.  But soon the threads came together and the tension ramped up considerably.  The final dozen or so chapters are particularly action-filled and tension-producing, with one exception.  Mullen added one scene that seems to mislead the reader, and it felt somewhat cheap in the midst of an excellent finish.  But otherwise, it was a fully, white-knuckle finale.

Overall, I'd suggest readers prepare themselves for some emotionally difficult reading and then, by all means, make the effort.  It's an excellent book.