Saturday, June 9, 2018

Another Great Novel from Thomas Mullen

This is an excellent sequel to Darktown, which was one of my favorite books from 2016. Set in 1950, it continues to follow the experiences of the first African-American police officers who were allowed to join the Atlanta, Georgia, P. D. Ten in number, they are assigned the daunting responsibility of patrolling all of the black areas of the city. They continue to be taunted by white officers, who refuse to accept them as "real" policemen, and are caught between white citizens who do not respect them at all, and some black citizens who count them as traitors for policing their own people.

The story is set in a time of racial turmoil, particularly with regard to housing. The city continues to be rigidly segregated, but there are not nearly enough decent homes for the black population, which is growing rapidly. When a handful of black citizens "dare" to buy homes in a previously all-white area, they touch off a battle that engulfs many of the novel's characters, both white and black.

The two principal black policeman in the novel are Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. Smith's sister and brother-in-law have just bought a home in a previously all-white neighborhood and have immediately become targets for white neighbors who fear their arrival and who want them out of their neighborhood at any cost and "back where they belong." Also living the the neighborhood is a white policeman, Denny Rakestraw, who is much more tolerant than many of his fellow white officers and many of his white neighbors. Rakestraw and Boggs have helped each other previously and have a tentative relationship that falls just short of friendship. But that relationship will be tested as this very combustible situation unfolds.

Also in the mix are criminals who are smuggling dope into the black areas of Atlanta, with the knowledge and assistance of some corrupt white cops who are taking payoffs and looking the other way. One night Smith and Boggs interrupt some of the smugglers, and a gunfight ensues that will complicate their lives and a lot of others as well.

There are many other strands to this richly-textured story. The characters are incredibly well drawn, and virtually all of them are flawed in one way or another. Many are good men and women who are struggling simply to find their way through very difficult times and circumstances, and who discover along the way that they sometimes have to make agonizing compromises. Thomas Mullen has created here a gripping story set against a pivotal moment in the history of Atlanta and of the larger nation as well. It's beautifully written and totally absorbing, and I can hardly wait for the third installment of this series.

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