It’s 1948 and the Atlanta police department has been pressed to hire its first African American police officers. They wear the uniform and do their best to uphold the laws, but they have no authority. They cannot arrest anyone Caucasian, they are met with constant hostility and are not even allowed at police headquarters. Boggs and Smith, two newly minted African American officers, work “Darktown”, a predominately African American neighborhood. When they find a badly beaten back woman in the trash behind an old building, they realize she looks familiar. They last saw her driving with a white man, an ex-cop. As they fight to solve her murder, tensions build as Boggs and Smith risk everything, including their own lives, in the name of justice.
Darktown, by Thomas Mullen, is a novel that will stay with you long after you have completed reading it. Written as a twist on a police procedural, this historical thriller takes readers back to the Deep South as we meet two newly minted African American officers (Boggs and Smith) as they do their best to administer the law in Atlanta. They have no power; yet, they try their best to enforce what they can. When they come across a seemingly intoxicated Caucasian man, running into poles in their jurisdiction (a neighbourhood called Darktown) they go to investigate. He is uncooperative and they see him beating his passenger, a young African American woman. Later, when she turns up dead, Boggs and Smith go against the grain to try and find her killer.
When I first started this book, I was captivated by Mullen’s vivid imagery. He is able to transport the reader right back in time to the south. As I read the first page, I could feel the humidity and smell the summer air. That’s how powerful his writing was. That being said, it was also one of the most difficult things to accept about this novel; I was constantly uncomfortable while reading as I watched the character deal with oppression, blatant racism, corruption, intolerance and racial slurs. I know this was a necessary part of the novel, to set the time and place, but it made me cringe to read.
Mullen’s characterization in this novel was brilliant. I connected immediately with the lead characters and loathed the antagonists. I also loved the character of Rake, a progressive Caucasian officer, who is struggling between what is the “norm” and what is right. It was interesting to add this character to the plot.
Be warned, this book was extremely slow, which is completely different from the fast-paced thrillers I love, but it was so well written, I could not put it down. I feel like if it was any faster paced, it would have taken away from the subject matter.
Apparently, this book will be a T.V series starring Jamie Foxx. I think this will be incredible and can completely see how this would be adapted for the screen.
This novel is gritty and raw, a must read for anyone who enjoys a complex and compelling police procedural. It will be different from any other one you have ever read.