Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke is set in Lark, a small town in East Texas, where black people steer clear of a bar crawling with the Aryan Brotherhood and take solace at Geneva’s, a small cafe where they can get some food and a good haircut. Geneva has been a staple in Lark, even though she’s had her own problems with her husband and son being murdered, mere years apart. But those murders aren’t what brings Darren to town.
One of very few black Texas Rangers, Darren Mathews comes to Lark to investigate the murders of an out-of-town black man and a local white woman, but it’s not easy getting racist white people to talk to a black cop. It also doesn’t help that the town is corrupt; a rich white man owns the police, covers up for the Brotherhood, and has been a thorn in Geneva’s side for years because he wants her land. Throw in decades of secrets, marital problems, and racial tensions buried deep, and this case becomes much larger than Darren imagined.
But this novel is much more than a murder mystery. Woven throughout is social and political commentary on race and justice in contemporary America. The complexities of this murder mystery and the relationships in town show the hardships black Americans have faced since the Civil War. We see black people nervous about a white woman showing up dead because they know where the cops will start looking. We see Darren getting blamed for not being objective in this investigation because he’s black. There are so many more examples, and all feel scarily realistic.
Intelligently written, with fabulous character development and great dialogue, I was immersed in this world. Locke did a great job showing the good and bad in this southern town and in each of these characters. They’re all flawed, some more than others, but their flaws made this so much more real. There is no perfect character, no easy answer, and no neatly-tied ending. Where we leave some of these characters I could easily see more to come, too, and I’d love to revisit them again in the future if this were turned into a series.