Review: Bluebird, Bluebird (Highway 59, #1) by Attica Locke

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★★★

Mulholland Books | 2017

Filed Under: Makes Racists Afraid Again


This is a tricky review to write because there are two different elements to this book that require attention. The first is the atmosphere and setting and all the social issues that go along with it writing a novel set in a small one-horse Texas town with deep ties to America’s racist history.

The other is the mystery itself, because this is a mystery novel. Why were a black man and a white woman murdered together, and who did it?

The setting and the mystery work together and separately, propelling the plot forward while also giving the reader a glimpse into what small-town southern life is like when the local bar is full of Aryan Brotherhood members and up the road is a black-owned Jim Crow-era restaurant.

Honestly, is it just me or is the idea of travelling to the U.S. as an outsider just like, no thanks? I’m gonna quote Bowie here and say, I’m afraid of Americans. Obviously not all Americans, but let’s not parse this out like certain turds insist on doing with #notallmen. I’m married to a New Yorker and I love him and he’s wonderful. But still, as a whole? No, thanks. I think if I was going to travel to the U.S., I’d pick all the blue states for my destinations. I feel my risk of running into bigoted, racist assholes and people carrying guns for no reason is significantly lowered. I don’t want to die just because I wanted to see the Grand Canyon, you know what I mean?

But, I digress…

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I really wanted to like this novel more than I did.

On one hand, yes 1000%, Attica Locke fucking kills it when it comes to creating and exploring a realistic racist atmosphere in the small town of Lark where a black Texas Ranger starts investigating two murders that appear to have been racially motivated. And even if they weren’t, good luck getting away from those racial divides in a place like Lark. It’s so prominent and ever-present even in the 21st Century that it tints everything and everyone around it. The plot of the novel is wrapped up in all those nuances of race and community and people who just can’t evolve past bygone social structures.

And on the other hand, some Oompf was missing from the novel for me. Yeah, I said Oompf. I don’t even know how else to describe it. But something about this novel was kind of bland, just one-note across most of the plot. The mystery, while opening the door to topics that are relevant and complex and frustrating and horrifying, didn’t blend those things in a way that really lit my feelings on fire. I felt like something was left behind or held back. I needed this to be more.

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I’m not going to say that I didn’t “connect” with the characters, because I don’t think readers are always mean to connect with characters. Sometimes we’re just supposed to be impacted by them. And as a white woman reading a novel about black characters who were exploring racism, past and present, I wasn’t supposed to connect with them. But I felt like I should have been more impacted by them. There were a lot of characters and sometimes I had trouble following along with who was who, combined with personalities that just didn’t jump off the page for me, I was left very underwhelmed by the people at the center of the plot. Except for Geneva Sweet, who was probably the most vibrant and tangible character in the novel.

The rest were mostly monotone versions of human beings, or in the case of the victim’s wife, annoying. Like, I’m not even sure why she was there or why she would have been allowed to be so involved in the murder investigation of her husband.

The main character of Darren was a complex man with a complex background, but I found him so unlikeable almost all of the time. And most of his decision-making was sketchy at best. It’s almost like he was written to be a character study, but it never went deep enough. He was flat and just blah.

Then there was the pace. Good lord. I think I fell asleep reading it a dozen times.

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It wasn’t until the 60%-ish point that things started to pick up in the plot. I was invested to see where the mystery would go and how it would wrap up, that’s about the only reason I didn’t DNF it. The mystery was an interesting onion, wrapped up in family drama and racial issues, but I think the pacing and the characters made it less compelling than it could have been.

That said, this isn’t a bad book and I don’t feel like I can give it less than 3 stars. The atmosphere and setting get an A+, but the characters, pacing and mystery get a C-.

I’m pretty sure that evens out to 3 stars, probably. I don’t know. I’m bad at math.

🔪🔪🔪


A powerful thriller about the explosive intersection of love, race, and justice from a writer and producer of the Emmy winning Fox TV show Empire.

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.

A rural noir suffused with the unique music, color, and nuance of East Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird is an exhilarating, timely novel about the collision of race and justice in America.

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