Bluebird, Bluebird

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Pub Date 12 Sep 2017 | Archive Date 08 Nov 2019


A "heartbreakingly resonant" thriller about the explosive intersection of love, race, and justice from a writer and producer of the Emmy-winning Fox TV show Empire (USA Today).

"In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke had both mastered the thriller and exceeded it."-Ann Patchett

When it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules -- a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about growing up black in the lone star state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

When his allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he travels up Highway 59 to the small town of Lark, where two murders -- a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman -- have stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes -- and save himself in the process -- before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt. From a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire, Bluebird, Bluebird is a rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas.
A "heartbreakingly resonant" thriller about the explosive intersection of love, race, and justice from a writer and producer of the Emmy-winning Fox TV show Empire (USA Today).

"In Bluebird, Bluebird...

Advance Praise

“In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke had both mastered the thriller and exceeded it. Ranger Darren Mathews is tough, honor-bound, and profoundly alive in corrupt world. I loved everything about this book.” —Ann Patchett

“Attica Locke’s Bluebird, Bluebird reads like a blues song to East Texas with all its troubles over property, race, and love. . . . Locke’s small town murder investigation reveals what lies at the heart of America’s confusion over race.” —Walter Mosley, author of Down the River unto the Sea

“Locke, having stockpiled an acclaimed array of crime novels, deserves a career breakthrough for this deftly plotted whodunit whose writing pulses throughout with a raw, blues-inflected lyricism.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“From the first beautifully done scene until the finale, this is a very propulsive novel concerning old deeds that keep influencing the present, injustice and courage—a powerful and dramatic look at contemporary black life in rural America.” —Daniel Woodrell, author of The Maid’s Version

“A tale of racism, hatred, and, surprisingly, love . . . [An] absorbing series launch” —Publishers Weekly

“In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke had both mastered the thriller and exceeded it. Ranger Darren Mathews is tough, honor-bound, and profoundly alive in corrupt world. I loved everything about this...

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Featured Reviews

"Geneva Sweet ran an orange extension cord past Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest With her Heavenly Father." The first line of this novel caught my attention immediately. What a great beginning! And it only got better from there. Being from Texas, and being very familiar with Houston, Hwy 59, and the tiny little East Texas towns that dot the highway like so many mosquito bites on a redneck's arm, I was quickly drawn to this story of a black Texas Ranger and the two murders he is driven to investigate in an area that still holds on to some old-style traditions. And I don't mean the good kind of traditions. Darren Mathews, Texas Ranger living in Houston, in the midst of an investigation that could mean his job, and a crisis and drinking problem that could affect his marriage, hears of the murders of a black man and a white woman in the little town of Lark in northeast Texas. While on suspension from the Rangers, he decides to check out the situation for himself. What he discovers in this rural setting, is that the stench of white supremacy has overtaken the sweet scent of the area's piney woods. As Ranger Mathews investigates further and gets to know the people in Lark, he uncovers secrets that have been around for years, hiding in plain sight. By the end of the book, an intricate web has been laid bare, as well as a realistic portrait of racial and criminal activities that still happen today - more often than we choose to believe. This book was so well written, that I couldn't put it down. I read it in almost one sitting. Attica Locke has won multiple awards for her other books, and although I haven't read any others by her, that's going to change right away! Her style is descriptive, her characters well-formed and believable. Her use of real locations and her knowledge of the best and the worst of Texas had me smiling with enjoyment or shaking my head with shame throughout the story.

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Since BLACK WATER RISING Attica Locke has been one of my favorite crime writers. I've read everything she's written to date, and was excited by the slightly new direction of this series with Mulholland. Mulholland has been putting out some terrific books for the past few years, and I've grown to trust their editorial instincts. So, combine my belief in the publisher along with my abiding belief in the author, and you can guess my level of excitement at the opportunity to read BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD. Happily, I can report that my enthusiasm for this book was not only met but far exceeded. Attica Locke gets better with every word she writes. There is no end to the accolades I can give this gifted writer. There is so much I loved about BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD. The language, the characters, the plot, etc. Locke doesn't just tell you a story; she places you IN IT. So, you're right along beside black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews as he navigates the "interesting" racial politics of East Texas. You cough away the swirling dust on back country roads as Matthews digs ever deeper into the mystery of two murders: a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. You taste the spices in every bite of food at Geneva Sweet's roadside cafe. And when Ranger Matthews takes his lumps, you squint and grimace with every blow. Last year, I proselytized Christopher Charles's THE EXILED (another Mulholland gem) as one of the best books of the year. This year, you will much from me extolling the absolute pleasure of reading Attica Locke's BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD. The advance buzz has been deafening, and let me just say, fully warranted. This is top-shelf reading.

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Having grown up near East Texas myself, this book reminded me that there is still so much I don't understand about both the history and current state of racial relations there. This book is complicated, deep, suspenseful, and a very interesting read. I look forward to recommending it to Texas readers.

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Doing the right thing is usually not the easiest option. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews could be a trope of a character, disgraced cop with a drinking problem and a marriage on the outs. Instead he comes across as a flawed but admirable lawman who pushes against racial tensions to try to solve a double murder in small town East Texas. The setting and character detail were beautifully and bluntly detailed to form a backdrop to Mathews' Sisyphean task. Reading this novel, I understood his motivations and reasons for his good and bad behavior. I wanted to see more of Mathews' great legal mind working through police procedure to get the truth. The pace picks up about halfway through and gets better all the way to the conclusion. Would love for this to be a series.

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In Bluebird, Bluebird Locke tackles the difficulty of being a black man in the south with education, status, and the drive to make things better. Locke begins to peel back the layers of what it means to call a place that is not always welcoming home. Of being drawn to a place that is hostile to your very existence. Darren and his family have deep roots in Texas. The Mathews family has every right and reason to be proud of their family's legacy that they fought to establish while fighting against people who felt entitled to more and better simply by being born white. Darren's life is as about as complicated as it can get when he becomes entangled in three murder cases that all revolve around issues of race. Darren has been suspended pending an investigation, he and his wife are separated because of differing visions for their future, and Darren's trying to decide which part of the law he wants to fight for. Continue to be a Texas Ranger and fight with his boots on the ground, or finish law school and fight in the courtroom. The cherry on top of this pile of stress is Darren's mother, who is difficult at best, and is making an appearance and making demands in his life. To deal with the mess that his life is becoming, Darren finds himself seeking refuge in bottles of whiskey. Just when Darren thinks that his life is about as complicated as it can get, a phone call from a friend sends him to the tiny community of Lark, Texas to poke around in an unofficial capacity. The trip down Highway 59 sets Darren on a path to solving a crime and answering some hard questions about himself that he's been wrestling with. Attica Locke wastes no time locking in her readers in Bluebird, Bluebird. I admit that I was partial to this story in part because of it's location. The story is set in East Texas, which is very familiar to me. My dad's people hail from the ArkLaTex area. That's Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas for those not in the know! My family and family friends still live and love in Texarkana, Shreveport, and Marshall. My family's farm is just minutes from Wiley College which is mentioned in Bluebird, Bluebird. Many of the places mentioned and described in this story were just that much more familiar to me, because I can clearly picture the farm roads, towns, and woods. I can hear the drawls and cadence of the people Locke describes. For me, this entire book felt like home and the Mathews family felt like a reflection of my own. I can barely describe how wonderful it felt to relate that closely to characters in a story. It is a very rare occurrence for me and it means a lot to truly see my reality reflected so clearly. The south is populated by many African American families who made a place for themselves and prospered through hard work and pushing for education despite the hardships and hurdles thrown at them. Unfortunately, we don't always get a realistic look at those kind of families in fiction. I appreciate Locke featuring this type of modern family as the background for Darren. Far from perfect, but reaching for their piece of the American dream. Locke did a wonderful job of encompassing the bits of really good and the really ugly of these southern communities. Close knit communities anywhere are sometimes difficult, but in the southern states, they can be especially complicated. In East Texas, as in many rural places, time has marched on, but the people there aren't growing and evolving with the times as quickly as other places. The tangled web of race, family, and community are all realistically portrayed in this story. The ending of Bluebird, Bluebird clearly suggests that this is the beginning of a series and I certainly hope that Locke gives us many more books featuring these characters. There would be so much to explore with Darren as the protagonist. I almost finished this in one sitting on a road trip and hated to see the story end, even though it was a perfect place to leave off. If you are looking for a good crime story I would recommend picking up Bluebird, Bluebird. Attica Locke is an author who is going to be an auto buy for me.

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This book! Holy smokes, how has it taken me this long to read Attica Locke. I loved everything about this book – the strong sense of place, the complicated cast of characters, the racial tension, and how the plot developed. The pacing was perfect – a slow, steady ramp-up before weaving and winding through discoveries. And that ending was incredible. If I could have, I would have read this book in one sitting. So many of the characters could have been tropes, but Locke made them feel real and flawed but not in an overwrought way. I'd love to see this one adapted for TV.

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The opening of Bluebird, Bluebird grabbed my attention and my imagination immediately. We first meet Geneva Sweet as she snakes an orange extension cord through a cemetery, past the grave markers that read "Mayva Greenwood, Beloved Wife and Mother, May She Rest With Her Heavenly Father" and "Leland, Father and Brother in Christ" until she reaches her goal, the final resting place of her husband, Joe "Petey Pie" Sweet, whose monument reads "Husband and Father, and Forgive Him Lord, A Devil on the Guitar." The extension cord and the transistor radio allow Geneva to play Joe some Muddy Waters. Geneva Sweet, almost seventy, is in many ways the heart of the novel. She is not the protagonist; she is the core, the center that anchors a tiny community with deep roots in the past. Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger, and he is justifiably proud of the fact. He loves Texas and the Rangers, but his pride in both doesn't mean Darren isn't aware of flaws in the justice system. Raised by his twin uncles (Clay, a celebrated law professor and William, the first black Texas Ranger), Darren's background is privileged. At the other end of the spectrum, Darren's mother is a poor alcoholic who is always cadging money. Darren's connections run the gamut of the socioeconomic spectrum. After a degree from Princeton and two years of law school, Darren's career path derails after the horrific event in 1998 in Jasper, Texas. He drops out of law school, much to the disappointment of his wife and his Uncle Clay, and joins the Texas Rangers. While it is easy to love Darren, despite his ideals, he is as imperfect as any other human being, and in the midst of some serious problems at work and at home, he finds himself in the tiny town of Lark, Texas at the request of a friend in the FBI. A black man has been found dead and the death receives only a cursory examination. Then a few days later, a white woman is murdered. When he walks into Geneva Sweet's tiny establishment, Darren has no idea of how his perspective will undergo change. Bluebird resonates on so many levels--from the piney woods setting in East Texas, to the strengths and frailties of the human condition, to the historic and current effects of race relations. The novel is a love song to Texas in many ways, despite the acknowledged racism and the impact prejudice and discrimination have on the lives of both blacks and whites. That, I think, is what makes this different from many novels that attempt to cover racism. Attica Locke's roots (like those of her protagonist) are deep in the red soil of East Texas and despite all of the injustices, historic and contemporary, she loves the state and her own heritage. The novel presents a thoughtful and humane look at the characters while still making the situations perfectly clear, never excusing and never despairing. Locke examines the complexity of the events of a small town and leaves her protagonist uncomfortably aware of a script that diverges from his expectations. The prose and the images from this novel will remain with me. Highly recommended. From a Literary Hub interview with the author: Attica Locke: I’m from an area that kisses the border of Louisiana. It’s infinitely more Southern than it is Southwestern. Is there still that Lonestar spirit? Yes, but it’s not big sky country, it’s the piney woods. They call a portion of it Big Thicket. It’s lumber country, woods and trees everywhere, creeks and bayous. To me one of the great contradictions about East Texas is the sense of familiarity among black and white folks. Folks have been living up under each other for hundreds of years. There’s a familial quality to it. That doesn’t mean we’re all holding hands and singing cumbaya. But the people there are fundamentally intermixed—culturally and genetically. So there really is a sense of family. (The piney woods and the names of some of the small towns along the Texas/Louisiana border are as familiar to me as the music that runs like a melody through the novel.) NetGalley/Mulholland Books Mystery/Crime. Sept. 12, 2017. Print length: 320 pages.

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Set in Eastern Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is a powerful narrative on race relations, the value of life, and our own misguided assumptions. Darren Mathews gives us a glimpse into his life as a Black Texas Ranger who returns to his home town and is caught in the middle of a murder investigation. Author Attica Locke spoke recently on an NPR interview about how prevalent racial tensions still are today in this part of the country, and she brings these tensions to life. She portrays the locals' foreboding attitude to an out-of-town Black man entering into what they consider a whites-only establishment, while also portraying the man's own cluelessness, as he's never encountered such hostility. It's a literary tale, woven with elements of mystery. Who was the killer and why? Not your usual "whodunnit" but more of an eloquent portrait, an uncomfortable reality that maybe, just maybe folks are justified right now when they "take the knee" to protest racial inequality. ***I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review***

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From Reviewing the Evidence - At a time when police misconduct on the news makes police heroics on the page seem jarringly fictional, Attica Locke gives us what promises to be the first in a compelling new series that doesn't shy away from confronting the complexities of racism and its corrosive effect on policing, justice, and the American way. Darren Mathews is in danger of losing his wife and his job. His spouse, never happy that he left law school to become a Texas Ranger, is ready to call it quits, and he's in legal trouble for coming to the aid of a friend during a dispute with a white supremacist that turned deadly. He's surprised when some higher-ups decide that, though he's been placed on leave, he's just the man to send to Lark, a small East Texas town, to offer the local sheriff support in solving two murders. A black man from Chicago turned up beaten and drowned in the bayou behind a local cafe just a few days before the body of a local white woman washed up in the same bayou. Maybe having a black Texas Ranger on the ground will help smooth over any negative publicity that could come to a town where black and white live side-by-side but in different worlds. Mathews knows this territory. He grew up not far away, raised by two great-uncles, one a fierce defense lawyer and the other the first black Texas Ranger. Though he had left Texas behind to follow one uncle's example, he quit law school to follow the other's, joining the Rangers after his "9/11 moment," the day he heard about a black man being dragged to death behind a pickup truck in Jasper, a modern lynching not far from his home town. Texas isn't just a backward racist state to Mathews; it's his home, and home to people he loves. If he didn't do his duty, he figures the racists would win. It's that stubborn devotion to the ideal of the Rangers and to the truth that makes him keep digging even after he's found a solution that seems to satisfy everyone to the double murder. Lark has a small cafe run by a black woman where he feels at home, a place where there's blues on the jukebox, good food on the stove, and a lingering mystery about the long-ago death of its former owner and his son. Lark is also home, just up the road, to a bar where members of the Aryan Brotherhood hang out and likely sell drugs. Just as he was unwilling to let Jasper define his home state, Mathews won't let easy answers solve his double homicide. This is a rich and heady brew of a book, steeped in the past and full of East Texas flavor. It has a well-realized cast of characters, a rich sense of place, and a plot that combines reflection with the pacing of a thriller. It delves into the conflicted commitment a black man might feel toward his badge and brings to life the deep, enduring love people can have for a place where bigotry has deep roots. Like its hero, the novel refuses to investigate questions of justice without acknowledging the role racism plays in American society. Likewise, Locke doesn't shy away from the complicated way that human relationships cross over the social barriers we erect to keep our assumptions separated and simplified into black and white. It's a remarkable novel, and timely, and if it's truly the first in a series, we have a lot to look forward to.

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I am deeply ashamed of the review I am about to write here. Ashamed because my words cannot do justice to Attica Locke's writing and prose. Bluebird, Bluebird is basically your classic "Whodunnit" novel. Except that it's not. Far away from it. Let's talk quickly about the "mystery" aspect of the book. Locke writes in the traditions of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles, only good! (i'm sorry about this one, Iles and Lehane are tremendous writers, but Locke blows them out of the water, in my humble opinion). The story is tight and well crafted, the details are important and Locke provides just enough back story and details to leave us guessing until the end. That part alone should have you get your credit card out of your wallet and run off to your local independant bookstore and pickup a copy. God Almighty, what a voice!! What a powerful literary voice Attica Locke is. This novel, of the utmost importance in today's political landscape, is written in such a beautiful way that it had me shed a tear or two. Locke's writing feels so real and is so deeply encrusted in today's reality that even though I live in a very multicutural and multiethnic place where I witness practically zero of the themes covered in this novel, I could feel the reality of it all crushing me like a punch in the face. Locke seems to master East Texas the same way Ron Rash masters Appalachia and the same way Stephen King masters Maine. She is that good. I will definitely pick it up one more time in a not so distant futur and read it, slowly, pacing myself, just to enjoy Attica Locke's prose and writing. God, what a voice.

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