Characters: 5 Writing: 5 Plot: 4.5
A remarkable and entertaining book — appealing to literary fiction and mystery lovers alike. As a whodunit, it has it all — convoluted plot, simmering tensions in the community, and plenty of motive to spread amongst an array of characters. What takes it past straight mystery and into the realm of literary fiction is the top notch writing (see great lines below), truly in-depth characters, and the fact that the narrative never takes the easy way out.
This is a story of murder in the small, East Texas community of Lark (population 178). Two bodies are pulled out of the bayou behind Georgia Sweet’s Sweet shop within days of each other — a 35-year old black man and a 20-year old local white woman. Darren Matthews, one of the few black Texas Rangers (his now-deceased favorite Uncle was the first) is unofficially asked to nose around the case. Darren is the epitome of the Hero — a strong, capable, focussed man who can’t bear to injustice — especially when it has a racial component. He won’t stand by as the black community takes the heat for the white girl’s death, but neither does he give in to the temptation of assuming the Aryan Brotherhood (ensconced just down the road at the Ice House) are to blame. He must work around a local (white) Sheriff who seethes under Matthews’ technically superior rank, the threatening Brotherhood members who would love to get “credit” for bringing down a black Ranger, and even a black community that doesn’t appear to trust him.
This 2018 Edgar Award winning book goes deep into the way racial tensions can fracture a community and give rise to crimes that are far more nuanced than your typical hate crimes. I couldn’t put this book down, though I have to say the stress level (for me, as I can never seem to separate myself from a book that feels as real as this one) was quite high.
Some of my favorite lines:
“Seemed like death had a mind to follow her around in this life time. It was a sly shadow at her back, as single-minded as a dog on a hunt, as faithful, too.”
“Criminality, once it touched black life, was a stain hard to remove.”
“…men of stature and purpose, who each believed he’d found in his respective profession a way to make the country fundamentally hospitable to black life.” (about his uncles…)
“But sometime after he hit forty, the word Mama shot out as if it were a stubborn seed lodged in his teeth all these years that had finally popped free.”
“Most black folks living in Lark came from sharecropping families, trading their physical enslavement for the crushing debt that came with tenant farming, a leap from the frying pan into the fire, from the certainty of hell to the slow, torture of hope.
“For black folks, injustice came from both sides of the law, a double-edged sword of heartache and pain.”