Thursday, January 25, 2018

An Excellent Novel about Race and Justice in Today's United States

Darren Mathews is a rarity in that he's a black Texas Ranger. He also has troubles of his own that may cost him his career and his marriage. While his future, both professional and personal, hangs in the balance, Darren finds himself in Lark, a tiny East Texas town out in the middle of nowhere, where the local sheriff suddenly has two homicides on his hands. The first victim was thirty-five-year-old Michael Wright, a black lawyer from Chicago who was found floating in a bayou after being beaten to death. The second, Melissa Dale, was a twenty-year-old married white woman who worked as a waitress at a roadhouse, and who had been seen talking to Wright just before he was killed. 

Lark is a town with racial divisions and and relationships that go back for decades, and the bar where the waitress worked and where she was seen talking to the black victim, is home to a number of members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Shelby County hasn't had a homicide in years, and when Missy's body is pulled from the bayou three days after Wright's, it's clear that the two crimes must be connected. 

The logical and and all-too-traditional conclusion that many are ready to jump to, is that a black man committed an act of violence against a white woman and has been summarily punished for his crime. But as Darren realizes, the order in this case is wrong: The black man was killed first. As a second alternative, it's possible that someone was upset about seeing a black man and a white woman "fraternizing" together and thus decided to punish both of them. Or, in fact, the situation could be much more complicated than either of these scenarios.

The local hick sheriff would like to see both homicides swept under the rug ASAP, and the last thing he wants is outside interference in his "investigation." But he's forced to allow Darren access, and the Ranger is not about to let this case go until he's satisfied that the solution is correct. Given the forces arrayed against him, however, this will be a virtually impossible and a very dangerous task.

This is a beautifully written book with an excellent sense of place. Locke obviously knows the territory very well, and the reader is immediately immersed in this tiny, troubled town. The characters, Darren Mathews in particular, are complex and believable, and the web of relationships between and among them is expertly woven. The story is compelling and tragic, and Locke has a great deal to say about race, class and justice in today's United States. One of the best books I've read in quite a while, and a solid 4.5 stars.

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