Well how y’all doing Crimeziners? Those nice folks at Simon & Schuster just couriered over copy of Thomas Mullen’s latest Southern-fried crime thriller Darktown. Yeeehawwww! Mullen, it goes without saying, has cast iron cojones for tackling the subject of racial discrimination—even if that discrimination is contextualized within the framework of the pre-civil-rights South, a land where swivel-eyed torch carrying bigots and bitter-faced Jim-Crow racists murdered and lynched their way across the burning cotton fields at will.
It is surprising then, that in such a world of dirty judges, bent cops and Krazy Klanish Kookishness that there could ever have existed a unit of black law enforcement officers, dedicated to keeping the peace. How is this even possible we hear you ask—Welcome to Darktown Crimeziners, a world where Atlanta Police department hires its first black officers, Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. Naturally, Klear Kut Kaveats hamstring our heroes from the get go—no arresting whites, no driving squad cars and definitely setting foot through the front door of Police headquarters—that is white man’s territory boy and don’t you forget it.
But wouldn’t you know it, Boggs and Smith meet murder head on, throwing themselves manfully into investigating the heartless slaying of a young black woman that sets them against the brutal regime of status quo racism they are expected to serve. Can they draw allies from across the color barrier and solve this vilest and most casual of crimes? Can they wrangle their way past their crooked colleagues, shady shine-swilling crooks and duplicitous madams? It is a crazy ride Crimeziners, but you are going to love every moment of it.
Darktown conjures the gumbo flavors of Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley. The very title suggests more than a passing association with “James Devil Dog” Ellroy, but the sobriety of narrative thought is far removed from the Ellrovian world. Racial epithets are served here, but not with quite the same gusto as they are in the manic milieu of Ellroy’s City of Angels. The title is a not only a sophisticated play on the racial and moral climate of the Atlanta ghetto in the 40s but a reminder that in the “colored” part of town there were no street lamps, garbage collections or other comforts that whites took for granted—
Crimeziner’s will be no doubt aware that the fresh-faced Mullen already has a string of literary successes behind him Atlanta native Mullen’s 2006 debut, The Last Town on Earth was named Best Debut Novel by USA Today, in addition it snatched Chicago Tribune Book of the Year, the New York Times Editor’s Choice award and the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction. And now Darktown has been acquired by Sony Pictures for an upcoming TV series. Not bad for a skinny white guy.
Did you say white?
Yup—no doubt that will raise questions in the more politically correct reaches of the Whose Lives Matter movements. But Mullen doesn’t care. He has cast iron cojones after all. He is the kind of guy who can stuff the M80 of racial debate down the front of his Deliverance style dungarees and light the blue touch paper without blinking an eyelid.
Darktown—never mind the color of its skin, accept it for what it is—a damn fine crime novel.