Darktown: Book summary and reviews of Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Darktown

by Thomas Mullen

Darktown by Thomas Mullen X
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
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  • Published Sep 2016
    384 pages
    Genre: Mysteries

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Book Summary

The award-winning author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in 1948 Atlanta, exploring a murder, corrupt police, and strained race relations that feels ripped from today's headlines.

Responding to orders from on high, the Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire its first black officers, including war veterans Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers; they aren't allowed to arrest white suspects, drive squad cars, or set foot in the police headquarters.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up dead, Boggs and Smith suspect white cops are behind it. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood as his own, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Among shady moonshiners, duplicitous madams, crooked lawmen, and the constant restrictions of Jim Crow, Boggs and Smith will risk their new jobs, and their lives, while navigating a dangerous world - a world on the cusp of great change.

Set in the postwar, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. [Mullen] uses the lens of a twisted murder mystery to unsettle readers with his unflinching look at racism in post-WWII Atlanta ... This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Mullen's writing is extremely evocative in bringing the pre–civil rights South to life." - Booklist

"As his previous historical novels have proven, Mullen is skilled at bringing the past to life, both socially and visually ... Some readers may brace against the routine use of epithets, but fans of well-written literary thrillers will want this expert example." - Library Journal

"A great historical subject deserves better than this by-the-numbers rendition." - Kirkus

This information about Darktown was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Cloggie Downunder

Gritty and informative, this is a brilliant historical page-turner
“There was a lot that Rake was learning about his new occupation. He had survived against steep odds for years in Europe as an advance scout, had been alone for long stretches and had wisely figured the difference between threats and opportunities, collaborators and spies. Back home in Atlanta, however, he was finding the moral territory more difficult to chart than he’d expected”

Darktown is the fourth novel by American author, Thomas Mullen. In 1948, with a Negro population probably in excess of 115,000, Atlanta, Georgia had eight Negro police officers. Their powers of arrest were markedly fewer than those of white police officers, they were not issued with patrol cars, and they were quartered in the basement of a YMCA building. These startling facts underpin Thomas Mullen’s story of the murder of a young black woman and the black officers determined to find her killer.

Negro Officer Lucius Boggs is with his partner, Negro Officer Thomas Smith when they witness a Buick driven by a white man in knock over a light pole. They note a black female passenger, and give chase on foot when the driver leaves the scene. They observe him hitting her before she escapes from the car. Days later, they find her body in a pile of refuse. Boggs is no detective: his duties consist of walking his beat; but he is determined that her death will not go unpunished.

There is no love lost between the white officers and the Negro officers: it doesn’t help that the black cops have to call in white cops to make white arrests. When Boggs and Smith call for assistance in the traffic case, Dunlow and Rakestraw’s cruiser is slow to appear. Dunlow, old school and patently racist, ignores Boggs and Smith, and lets the driver off lightly; his rookie partner is more inclined to value their input.

Mullen follows known facts about the first Atlanta eight fairly closely in his tale, and the mention of actual historical figures gives the story authenticity. Each narrative, be it from the perspective of a fearful black sharecropper, an ageing white racist cop, a six-year-old negro boy, a white rookie, a back madam or a rookie negro police officer, has a genuine feel. He conveys the Atlanta of the immediate pre-civil rights era with consummate ease.

The characters are realistic: none of these black policemen is entirely blameless; even the most racist white officers have some virtues. The plot is wholly believable: there are a few twists, but there is no Hollywood ending here, and it is evident in the closing pages that Atlanta still has a long way to go. But Hollywood is apparently interested in turning Mullen’s book into a TV series, and it will certainly translate well. Gritty and informative, this is a brilliant historical page-turner.

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Author Information

Thomas Mullen

Thomas Mullen is the author of The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA TODAY. He was also awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers and The Revisionists. His works have been named to Year's Best lists by The Chicago Tribune and USA TODAY, among others. His stories and essays have been published in Grantland, Paste, and the Huffington Post, and his Atlanta Magazine true crime story about a novelist/con man won the City and Regional Magazine Award for Best Feature. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons.

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