Book review: Darktown

Thomas MullenDarktown by Thomas Mullen is a gripping book. A combination of the social history of black Americans in post-war pre-civil rights USA, and crime story, it tells the story of the first black policemen in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1948 and the physical, emotional and moral challenges they faced. Page after page, and they turned quickly, I was astonished by what happened and the knowledge that similar events really took place. It is a commentary on racial divides in the USA that the summer (2016) this novel about white police brutality was published, white policemen are still shooting and mistreating black citizens.

Politics aside, I read so quickly because the story of Officer Lucius Boggs and the case of the murdered Jane Doe grabbed me and made me resent the moments I wasn’t with them on the page. Twined together are the stories of Boggs and Police Officer Denny Rakestraw; one black cop, one white cop, both dissatisfied with the rules they must police and with the way black people, cops and citizens, are denigrated, both disturbed that the dead Jane Doe has been ignored. Boggs and Rake investigate alone and off-duty, risking suspension plus hatred and injury at the hands of fellow policemen. When they find themselves looking for the same witnesses, they find it difficult to trust. This is a time of corrupt cops and officials, when black people do not expect to have their rights upheld and Mullen shows the suspicion and mistrust of black citizens for the new police officers.

Darktown is a both a depressing story and one which offers a hint of hope. A hint, mind. It is a book which stays with you. It is being filmed for television starring Jamie Foxx.

One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Mullen’s debut novel, The Last Town on Earth, was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction. Read more about his novels at his website here.

If you like ‘Darktown’, try these other American crime novels:-
‘The Bonfire of the Vanities’ by Tom Wolfe
‘The Black Dahlia’ by James Ellroy
‘Devil in a Blue Dress’ by Walter Moseley

‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen [UK: Little, Brown] Buy at Amazon

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
Crime in post-war pre-civil rights USA: DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen @LittleBrownUK #bookreview via @SandraDanby

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