Review: Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Title: Darktown
Author: Thomas Mullen
Pages: 384
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Source: Free ARC from Atria

Rating: A

Note: As stated under the Source (above), I received this book for free from Atria via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review (and trust me, honest is always what you’ll get).

Review: On the cusp of the civil rights movement in 1948, the first black officers – eight in total – are hired in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course, they are not considered equal to their white counterparts. They can only police colored neighborhoods, can’t drive a police car, can’t investigate crimes. They can’t even enter the main police station. A separate office is set up for them at a YMCA in a colored neighborhood. And the white officers certainly don’t want them there.

When a young black woman is found murdered in a trash heap, a woman who Officers Boggs and Smith had last seen in the car of a white male, they want answers. They aren’t allowed to investigate, and they certainly aren’t going to get much in the way of cooperation from anyone involved, but when they start to smell a cover up, they simply can’t let it go. Even when the investigation starts causing collateral damage, even when it becomes clear that they are putting themselves and others in harm’s way, they can’t stop. And when help comes along from a very unlikely source, their chances of success increase pretty dramatically, but it also becomes clear that, when it comes to this particular case, no one is safe, and no one can be trusted.

The atmosphere of this book was so heavy. It was unsettling and upsetting and intense and so, so necessary. This is the second book I’ve read in as many months that gives the reader a really visceral look into the realities of being black in the South on the brink of the civil rights movement. Progress was slow and painful, and often cost lives. At a time when things were getting better legally, people themselves weren’t changing, and it was an extremely dangerous time for people of color. One of the things I love best about reading is the chance we get as readers to step into shoes that are very different from our own, and, if the book is very well written, to get some sense of what it would be like to truly walk in those shoes. I feel like this book provides one of those opportunities, and it’s one that shouldn’t be passed up.

As for the mystery itself, it was clever and there were a fair number of misdirects. Maybe to some the outcome will be obvious from the onset, but I was so deeply immersed in the story that I didn’t see it until very close to the end. It was intense and intriguing and stoked all sorts of internal fires for this justice-minded reader.

An entertaining and enlightening book that I highly recommend.

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