Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke (Mystery)

Writing: 3/5 Characters: 4/5 Plot: 4/5

Thank you to Mulholland Books and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 17th, 2019.

Race is always front and center in this second “Highway 59 Mystery” book following the work of black Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. In this episode, he is investigating the disappearance of a 9-year old white boy whose father (now incarcerated) was big in the Aryan Brotherhood. At the outset, it seems likely that the boy will be following in his father’s footsteps based on his early and nasty harassment of his black and native American neighbors. Set in the time period of the Trump election, the plot tangles together potential hate crimes, peculiarities of East Texas geography, and convoluted connections to history, family, and communities whose borders are not always what they seem. The latter is where Locke really shines.

The writing is good, the characters have real depth (FYI the black characters are far more sympathetic than any of the white ones). Darren Matthews is a great lead — strong, competent, and human — driven from an intense moral core. I appreciated his constant struggles with the morality of his actions, coupled with an awareness of his own flaws.

I read an advance reader copy and did find the writing to be a little muddier and in need of editing than the first novel (which I thought was spectacular). This is a solid mystery — convoluted plot, deep characters, good writing — but it doesn’t achieve the literary level of book one in which I found many, many, lines of perfect craft and deep beauty (see my review of the prior novel — Bluebird, Bluebird  — at:https://bibliobloggityboo.com/2018/11/07/bluebird-bluebird-by-attica-locke/).

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

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.

Strongly recommended!

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.”

Secrets, Lies, and Crawfish Pies by Abby L. Vandiver

Thank you to Henery Press and NetGalley for an early review copy of Secrets, Lies, and Crawfish Pies by Abby L Vandiver, which will publish June 12, 2018. All thoughts are my own.
Writing: 3.5 Plot: 3.5 Characters: 4

A fun, cozy, mystery – full of colorful Southern characters surrounded by good food and music.

Romaine Gabriela Sadie Heloise Wilder is a medical examiner in Chicago, in love with the married Chief of Staff of her hospital. When she loses her job and man through one swift act of downsizing, she is dragged home to East Texas (Roble, to be exact) by her voodoo and herbal remedy-wielding Aunt Zanne. When they arrive they find a surprise guest at the Ball Funeral Home and Crematorium — the family business. He fits right in, though, as he is quite, quite, dead. Romie solves the mystery with the help of her Aunt, the sheriff (a first cousin), and a couple of attractive beaux-in-waiting.

Fun, light, well-written. For those who care about these kinds of things, the author and most (perhaps all) of the characters are African American. I hadn’t heard of this author before, but she is quite prolific with three additional mystery series to her name — so if you like this one, you’ll have a lot more to read!