An online marketing consultant, an avid reader of 400 + books a year. Professional reader, reviewer, and blogger. Enjoy ARCs and new releases.
By: Thomas Mullen
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication Date: 9/13/2016
My Rating: 5 Stars +++
A special thank you to Atria and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Most Anticipated Book of 2016! Worth all the hype and more. CONGRATS, to Mullen: Landing Amy Pascal & Jamie Foxx Team For 1940s TV Crime Drama About Race ‘DARKTOWN.’
Thomas Mullen has brilliantly crafted a cast of unforgettable characters in DARKTOWN with a mysterious murder, a southern black woman in 1948, amid strains of the civil rights movement.
Top Cop Procedural Thriller and Best Cover of 2016!
A gritty cop procedural, in which the streets of 1948, the sweltering heat and humidity of an Atlanta, GA summer- a city just as dangerous for black cops, as for criminals.
The city’s first African American officers. An induction- However, unfortunately, here in the South, these officers were not respected, or treated equally as the whites. NO where close. Second class citizens, only moving a little from the back of the bus, and now in, even greater danger.
Meet Officer Lucius Boggs and his partner Tommy Smith.
From different backgrounds, their office was in the basement of the Negro YMCA, a makeshift precinct. Off color jokes were made and slang terms relating to their “walking a beat” compared to the running of laps, or paperwork/lifting weights, in relation to their ramshackle headquarters (hot in the summer, cold in the winter).
Things were as good as they could be for a Southern Negro in Atlanta, or were they settling?. Were they any different in Alabama or North Carolina? How long would it take to walk to Chicago where so many people had ventured for in search for a better life? Were there choices?
The novel chronicles the case of a black woman who turns up fatally beaten after last seen in a car driven by a white man, which deepens the divide in the police department.
Atlanta police officers were ordered to abide by a strict moral code—no drinking, even at home, and no womanizing—but that had not entirely sunk in with Tommy Smith. The Negro officers dutifully avoided alcohol, as they knew all too well that a witness could report them and get them suspended, but for Smith the idea of suddenly becoming a chaste man was altogether too much.
Boggs had always felt marked for something bigger, a curse of being raised by a reverend. The son of a minister, and though he had chosen not to follow in his father’s footsteps, the idea of tomcatting across town the way his partner did was utterly foreign to him.
The white officers were the worst!
One day they would most likely run over them and insist it was an accident. They had been officers for just under three months, walking the beats around Auburn Avenue (the neighborhood where both had lived all their lives save the war years), and the West Side, on the other side of downtown.
Although Atlanta’s eight Negro officers had not yet been entrusted with squad cars (hello), they did have uniforms, (yippee) plus fire arms, (living on the edge) which terrified a number of white people in Atlanta and beyond. They were not detectives, only beat cops. They had no squad cars and were forbidden from entering the white headquarters. They could not conduct investigations. By the time they walked to a call box to call in a report, and the whites came, they did nothing but laugh in their faces.
White people were not often found in Sweet Auburn, the wealthiest Negro neighborhood in Atlanta—Possibly in the country. Adventurous whites looking for gambling, or whores in the darker parts of town would normally troll along Decatur Street by railroad tracks, a half mile to the south.
On the West side of town was where most of Atlanta’s colored neighborhoods were in dire conditions. The end of the war had brought a population to the city with farmers fleeing sharecropping to find something only slightly less horrible. Families packed into one room apartments with poor living conditions, no garbage collection or enforcement of housing codes.
The novel revolves around an investigation. A woman, light-skinned and young, in her early twenties, in a canary-yellow sundress, was with a white man in a car driving reckless.
Colored officers only patrolled the colored parts of town, where whites were infrequent visitors. This man said Boggs did not have the power to arrest him when they stopped him. They were worried about the girl. The Buick took off almost running them over.
“Stop, or I’ll call the real cops.” Smith shook his head, “Funny how that don’t work.”
Atlanta, GA. Two parts Confederate racist to two parts Negro to one part something that doesn’t quite have a name. Neither city or country but some odd combination, a once sleepy railroad crossing that had exploded due to the wartime need for material and the necessities of shipping it. The South was very good a providing cheap, non-unionized labor. So the town continued to grow.
Twenty blocks away we meet Officer Denny Rakestraw and partner Lionel Dunlow. Rake had seen Dunlow beat at least a dozen men (usually blacks) rather than arresting them, and instructed those on what to say to stand witness at a trial. From bribes from bootleggers and numbers runners, and madams.
Dunlow ranked high on Boggs’ and Smith’s list of most hated white officers. They were called "jungle moneys” and verbally and physically abused daily. Dunlow never arrested white men. Only blacks. Boggs was smart and the white officers made fun of his prolific writing skills, when writing reports.
Dunlow falsified reports, beaten people, re-typed their reports, eliminating critical information, murder, racial injustice, corruption. They were not even allowed to identify bodies in the morgue. A detective had to be present. How could they bring him down?
Rake had survived against steep odds for years in Europe—from threats collaborators and spies. Back home in Atlanta, however, he was finding the moral territory more difficult to chart than he expected. Rake refused to play along with Dunlow’s sick games. He was smart.
Could he be an ally for Boggs and Smith- Someone to count on to get in places they couldn’t? Could he be trusted? Rake’s mother never permitted the N word to be spoken in their house growing up. He grew up respecting everyone, no matter their color.
The colored officers were only allowed to work the 6-2 shift, and there were only eight of them, so the white officers had occasion to visit what was now the colored officers’ turf. No white cops had ever had Auburn Ave. beat. Now they seem interested.
The woman they had seen earlier in the yellow sundress with the white man turns up dead. In a garbage dump surrounding by decaying food, hardly recognizable. A six- year old boy Horace saw the pretty lady in the yellow dress running. The lady was banging on someone’s door. The white man had stopped to find her.
Smith and Boggs had seen her in that car with the white man who hit her and they were not able to help. A desperate search for answers for this girl and her unknown family. The white officers couldn’t care less about a dead colored girl, especially one found in a dump.
The man’s name was Brian Underhill (a former cop) and he was selectively left out of the report. They were obsessed trying to find out more about the mysterious Black Jane Doe. A yellow dress, a heart-shaped locked, and a birthmark on her right shoulder was all they had to go on.
What was the connection between Underhill and Dunlow?
A colored girl, Lily Ellsworth. What was her story? What had led her to her death? Only Boggs and Smith had seen her the night she died. July 9 in Darktown. Their heart broken for her and the cruelty of whites. Someone had taken advantage of a situation. A white man named Brian Underhill (former cop)—what was he hiding? What about the family and the connection? Justice!
From murder, corruption, and conspiracy.
Also purchased Audiobook narrated by talented Andre Holland (currently listening). Highly recommend.
The dark underbelly of Atlanta. Black cops were denied overtime and made far less than white cops, and when they had been needed in a courtroom, the judge even refused to let them enter in uniform. They had to carry their uniforms and change in a custodial closet. Everything they had to encounter was dangerous.
Worn down, fighting against every turn, Boggs and Smith have no other choice than to break a few rules, even risk being fired to get to the bottom of this cruel murder. Will they have some help?
Smith says to Bogg: “Remind me why we are doing this?” “To be upstanding citizens and paragons of our race. To provide a good example for colored kids. There weren’t better jobs.”Give me more . . . .
•“Maceo Snipes” shot in the back for being the first Negro voter in Taylor County.
•“Isaac Woodard” War veteran blinded two years ago by SC cops for daring to wear his Army uniform.
•“The Malcolms and Dorseys” Two married couples including another vet and a pregnant woman, ambushed and murdered on a bridge over the Apalachee River.
Smith opened his eyes. “Give me those keys.”
WOW, Mullen delves deep – from suspense, mystery, crimes, racial injustices, dirty law enforcement, and a changing world in the South--amid city politics and police corruption.
If you have read any of Karin Slaughter’s books set in Atlanta, from women to racial cop corruption- fans will devour Mullen’s ride through DARKTOWN.
In Slaughter’s Cop Town, set in 1970 Atlanta, the city was still bubbling over with racial and political unrest. From women, blacks to whites. A divided town. Look where we are today in 2016? Almost 70 years later. We are still dealing with similar racial issues.
When reading DARKTOWN set in 1948 Atlanta, compared toCop Town set in 1970 Atlanta---“There is still nothing pretty about this divided cop town. But in exposing its ugliness, Slaughter forces us to question whether times really have changed.
There was no precedent to follow, no Jim Crow Guide to Colored Policing. They had survived into adulthood by proceeding warily, yet now they were expected to walk with heavy step and newfound power through their neighborhoods. In some parts, they were expected to vanish.
It is no surprise the much anticipated DARKTOWN is more than just a fictional crime thriller- infused with historical details and timely controversial subjects. It has been picked up by Hollywood! Deadline. So Excited.
Interview with Mullen:
“I’m always looking for tensions, these differences between people. Subtle differences between the different black characters, the different white characters. You’re not going to find they’re all the same.” And with widely varying backgrounds, influences, and experiences, they make the story rich and deep. There are veterans and non-veterans, a sense of duty or lack of it, bigots and outright racists.
“The backgrounds of the characters inform their world views,” says Mullen. “When I’m doing my research, I’m trying to keep my antenna up to spot those differences.”
Indeed, Mullen accomplished his goal in a bold way, and hoping we hear more from these unforgettable courageous characters. Entertaining and Insightful. His best yet!
Having spent my entire career in Atlanta, in the media industry, I love revisiting the vibrant city, from past to present, watching these areas come alive again today. In some ways, we have come a long way, and others- we are back living in the darkness.
Have already pre-ordered the audio!
A Conversation with Thomas Mullen, author of “Darktown”