Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

bluebirdI don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I’m trying to change that, because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as a reader in thirty-two years, it’s that I like variety. I’m pretty certain at this point that there are going to be books I love (and books I hate) in every genre. Limiting myself is just silly. And while I don’t think I’ll ever become a mystery reader the way I’m a science fiction reader, there are obviously some mysteries for me out there, and Bluebird, Bluebird is one of them.

Locke delves into race and racism in East Texas in a book that weaves together many intersecting storylines and many complicated characters with rich backstories. Darren Matthews is a black Texas Ranger who gets drawn into a double homicide case in rural East Texas–a black man and a white woman are found dead in the same bayou just days apart. Already on suspension due to his involvement as a witness in a murder trial, Darren ends up investigating the case anyway–and finds himself in a  sea of generations-old racial hatred family secrets.

I listened to the audio of this, which was fantastic. It pulled me in right from the start and never let up. There’s plenty of action and intrigue and revelations that kept me listening even after I’d pulled into the driveway at home. But Locke also writes beautifully, and there’s a lot of lush character development and backstory. She paints a rich and disturbing picture of small-town East Texas, and the way it’s been shaped by racism and decades of de-facto segregation. It’s a fascinating look at small-town life, and all the intersecting communities that coexist, often violently, but sometimes just silently, within the same space. Darren, a native Texan, knows and understands the place, but he’s also an outsider, and this contradiction adds a wonderful layer to the story.

In the end what I loved most about this book was how deeply it looked at crime and justice and morality and all the ways that racism in America permeates all of it. I loved the complexity of the characters, and I loved watching them change as Darren slowly uncovers the truth. This is a book that asks big questions and it left me thinking and pondering them long after I’d finished it. It’s my favorite sort of book–one that is both satisfying on a page-to-page level, fast-paced and compelling with a great plot and great writing, but that also leaves you with something–revelation and insights that are much bigger than one solved mystery.

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