Bluebird Bluebird by Attica Locke was highly recommended by my favorite local bookstore, Murder by the Book. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy novels that take place in my home state of Texas. There is a deeper connection to the story and its characters and Bluebird Bluebird was no exception.
The story takes place in the small East Texas town of Lark in Shelby County. For the most part, Lark is a quiet town with little crime. In fact, the last two homicides took place almost a decade ago. Even though Lark seems like a peaceful town, there is a long history of racism, racial inequality, and family secrets that connect the residents to one another. As the back cover says the murders have “stirred up a hornet’s nest of resentment.”
We are first introduced to Geneva Sweet, an older Black woman, who owns a small roadside café frequented by truck drivers and passers through, all of which are predominantly Black. The murder of her husband, Joe “Petey Pie” Sweet was never solved and her daughter-in-law is in prison for killing her son. Geneva is a central character to the story and knows more about the citizens of Lark than most. As the investigation ramps up, her knowledge is critical, but dangerous and a threat to her safety.
Darren Mathews is an officer with the Texas Rangers, an elite statewide investigative law enforcement agency, and one of the few Black officers on the force. Mathews is in the middle of his own personal crises when he receives a call from Greg Heglund, an old friend working for the FBI, about the two murders in Lark. Greg asks Darren to travel to the small town and poke around to see if he can uncover whether the murders are connected and if there is any chance they were racially motivated. The only problem is that Mathews is currently suspended and has no badge because of his alleged involvement in another crime.
The first victim, Michael Wright, is a Black lawyer from Chicago with a personal connection to Lark. He was found face down in the bayou, not far from Geneva’s café, brutally beaten and unrecognizable. The second victim, Melissa “Missy” Dale, was found directly behind Geneva’s two days later. Missy’s death draws more attention because she is a white woman and a member of the community. Local law enforcement is doing everything possible to sweep the murders under the rug and keep the peace in Lark.
As the story progresses, we follow Mathews as he investigates the murders and attempts to uncover what really happened to Michael and Missy. What Darren discovers creates a tense situation between local law enforcement, the residents of Lark, and himself. He ends up in dangerous situations, that not only affect him, but several people in the community.
Locke’s writing is compelling, gritty, and outstanding. Her descriptions of the small town, its residents, and the long-standing racial tensions creates a setting that echoes the all too familiar picture we currently see across the United States. This novel is a study of race, white supremacy, and a culture of hate that we experience first-hand through the eyes of several characters. The investigation into who committed the recent murders isn’t the only mystery being solved. Locke effortlessly ties together present and past murders to create a brilliant story.
I recommend this book to those that enjoy murder mysteries, but with the caveat that this isn’t a standard mystery novel. You must be prepared to look deeper and develop an understanding into how race and hate play into an investigation. I admire Locke for going beyond the standard and for encouraging her readers to open their eyes and take the journey with her. I was thrilled to discover that Bluebird Bluebird is the first novel in the Highway 59 series and cannot wait to check out the second installment, Heaven, My Home. I hope you all enjoy Bluebird Bluebird as much as I did!
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