One of CrimeReads's 10 Best Novels of the Decade Winner of the 2018 Edgar Award for Best Novel A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice A Finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize A Washington Post 10 Best Thrillers and Mysteries of 2017 A Kirkus Best Mysteries and Thrillers of 2017 A Financial Times Best Book of the Year Best book of the year from Vulture, The Strand Magazine, Southern Living, Bolo Books, Publisher's Weekly, Book Riot, The Guardian, Lit Hub, The Boston Globe, Dallas News, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Minnesota Public Radio, Texas Monthly, The Daily Beast, and the South Florida Sun Sentinel "A quick course in plotting and nimble characterizations rooted in a vividly evoked setting"— Nicole Lamy, New York Times Book Review "An emotionally dense and intricately detailed thriller, roiling with conflicting emotions steeped in this nation's troubled past and present. . . . A rich sense of place and relentless feeling of dread permeate Attica Locke's heartbreakingly resonant new novel about race and justice in America. . . . Bluebird, Bluebird is no simple morality tale. Far from it. It rises above "left and right" and "black and white" and follows the threads that inevitably bind us together, even as we rip them apart."— James Endrst, USA Today "Gripping, suspenseful and gut-wrenching . . . I've never bought the notion of the Great American Novel. I think when literary historians look back, they'll realize this time had many, but if Attica Locke's Bluebird Bluebird isn't on the list, I'm coming back to haunt them. . . . This is a layered portrait of a black man confronting his own racial ambivalence and ambition told with a pointed and poignant bluesy lyricism. . . . Locke's novel is America 'telling on itself.' Listen up."— Carole Barrowman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Attica Locke's terrific Bluebird, Bluebird (Mulholland) simmers with racial tensions . . . a story told with Locke's crystal-clear vision and pleasurably elemental prose."— Seattle Times "Few contemporary writers have portrayed black Southern life with as much wit and heart-pounding drama as Attica Locke. . . . A dazzling work of rural noir that throws into question whether justice can be equally served on both sides of the race line."— Amy Brady, Los Angeles Times "Locke pens a poignant love letter to the lazy red-dirt roads and Piney Woods that serve as a backdrop to a noir thriller as murky as the bayous and bloodlines that thread through the region. . . . Locke shows off her chops as a superb storyteller. . . . She is adept at crafting characters who don't easily fit the archetypes of good and evil, but exist in the thick grayness of humanness, the knotty demands of loyalties and the baseness of survival. Locke holds up the mirror of the racial debate in America and shows us how the light bends and fractures what is right, wrong and what simply is the way it isbut perhaps not as it should be."— Jaundréa Clay, Houston Chronicle "Powerful . . . Locke is a master of plot who's honed her craft. . . . The deepest pleasures to be found in Bluebird, Bluebird, though, are in her renderings of those who've loved and lost but still want to believe in the world's benevolence."— Leigh Haber, O., The Oprah Magazine "I've never bought the notion of the Great American Novel. I think when literary historians look back, they'll realize this time had many, but if Attica Locke's"Bluebird Bluebird" (Mulholland) isn't on the list, I'm coming back to haunt them."— Carole E. Barrowman, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Brooding, timely, gripping"— Family Circle "Locke, having stockpiled an acclaimed array of crime novels ( Pleasantville, 2015, etc.), deserves a career breakthrough for this deftly plotted whodunit whose writing pulses throughout with a raw, blues-inflected lyricism." — Kirkus (Starred Review) "Attica Locke's Bluebird, Bluebird reads like a blues song to East Texas with all its troubles over property, race, and love. Taut where it has to be to keep a murder investigation on its toes, this novel is also languid when you need to understand just what would keep a black woman or man in a place where so much troubled history lies. This novel marks Love's (and Hatred's) comings and goings amongst black and white, and all the shades between. Locke's small town murder investigation reveals what lies at the heart of America's confusion over race."— Walter Mosley, author of Down the River unto the Sea "In Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke had both mastered the thriller and exceeded it. Ranger Darren Mathews is tough, honor-bound, and profoundly alive in corrupt world. I loved everything about this book."— Ann Patchett "A tale of racism, hatred, and, surprisingly, love . . . [An] absorbing series launch"— Publishers Weekly "Attica Locke's stupendous fourth novel is suffused with the blues. Pushing her classic noir plot deep into history and culture, the Houston native sings her own unshakable, timeless lament. Streaked with wit and hard-earned wisdom, 'Bluebird, Bluebird' soars."— Chicago Tribune "Lyrical, elemental, and pulls no punches, exposing racial tensions past and present while a killer blues soundtrack plays perpetually in the background."— Boston Globe "Attica Locke is a must-read author who writes with power, grace, and heart, and Bluebird, Bluebird is a remarkable achievement. This is a rare novel that thrills, educates, and inspires all at once. Don't miss it."— Michael Koryta, author of Rise the Dark "With Bluebird, Bluebird Attica Locke brings freshness and vitality to a beloved form. Her storytelling touch is just so strong! From the first beautifully done scene until the finale, this is a very propulsive novel concerning old deeds that keep influencing the present, injustice and couragea powerful and dramatic look at contemporary black life in rural America."— Daniel Woodrell, author of The Maid's Version "This page-turner combines heart and heat."— Patrik Henry Bass, Essence " Bluebird, Bluebird has the impeccable pacing, memorable characters, and deepening sense of mystery and dread we expect in the finest noir thrillers. But this novel is so much more. Darren Mathews, the black Texas Ranger at the story's center, is a man caught up in the complex and at times contradictory loyalties of geography, profession, race, and family. He is a brilliantly realized character and in his refusal to settle for easy answers, he leads himself and the reader toward the most elemental of contradictions: the inextricable link between hate and love. Attica Locke has written a marvelous novel."— Ron Rash, author of Serena and The Risen "Attica Locke knows Texas, a place that has shaped both her characters and her life. Locke's new book, Bluebird, Bluebird, is evidence of her deep knowledge and love of her community and a deep talent for writing hype thrillers that also manage to be timely, relevant and keenly insightful."— Joe Ide, author of IQ and Righteous "Attica Locke knows how to tell a tale, her voice so direct and crisp that the dust from the side of Highway 59 will settle on your hands as you hold Bluebird, Bluebird. Nothing comes easy in Shelby County, where the lines between right and wrong blur a little more with each heartfelt page, and love and pain live together as one under the big Texas sun."— Michael Farris Smith, author of Desperation Road and Rivers "This is Attica Locke's best work yet-and if you've read Pleasantville you know that's saying something. Just by her choice of protagonist (an African American Texas Ranger, tacking between two worlds as he solves a double homicide) you know Locke is a writer who makes bold choices, and whose fiction is powerfully connected to our troubled world." — Ben Winters, author of Underground Airlines "Locke's writing is both sharp-edged and lyrical. This is thoughtful, piercing storytelling with the power to transport."— Diana Evans, Financial Times "Locke's latest is steeped in the blood of history but alive with the racial tensions of today. It's a twisty, carefully plotted thriller."— Chris Vognar, The Dallas Morning News "A great new book series . . . Entertaining"— Charles Ealy, Austin American-Statesman "Locke creates a town that breathes blues and beats with familiar warmth between those whose lives have been intertwined for generations."— Las Vegas Weekly "Attica Locke's incisive look at racial issues reaches another milestone in the gripping Bluebird, Bluebird. . . . The author packs the excellent novel with believable characters whose motives often are tied up in the complex morass of history and family. . . . Locke's superior storytelling excels in Bluebird, Bluebird."— Wisconsin Gazette
Attica Locke has lived in Los Angeles since 1993, spending much of her time as a screenwriter for movies and television. But when it comes to writing fiction, her imagination still dwells in the South, where she grew up. In the small East Texas town where Locke set her propulsive fourth novel,
Bluebird, Bluebird, an unofficial system of casual segregation persists. White folks patronize a bar called the Icehouse, while African-American residents congregate at Geneva's, a ramshackle café. That static, uneasy coexistence is strained by the discovery of two murders -- of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman. Mysteries often revolve around the search for justice, but the stories Locke tells are more frequently propelled by the call of social justice. She says the first time she read To Kill a Mockingbird, she strongly identified with Scout. Like Harper Lee's young heroine, Locke is the daughter of a southern lawyer focused on civil rights, but she also went one better than Scout and married a public defender. "What is special to me about law is that it is the place where we decide as a society what we will allow and what we won't allow," says Locke, sitting in a Pasadena café. "It's why we have to define some things as a hate crime, to be able to say: this is such an abomination it deserves a special category." Darren Matthews, the African-American Texas Ranger who investigates the murders in Bluebird, Bluebird, is a specialist in crimes with a racial component. After graduating from an elite college up north, Matthews considered becoming a lawyer but instead returned home to become a law enforcer. Now he finds himself wrangling with a local white supremacist group called the Aryan Brotherhood, unraveling a double murder mystery, and vacillating between his belief in the law as a fallible but honorably intentioned mechanism for uncovering the truth and a mounting suspicion that America's entire judicial system is "a lie black folks need protection from." Locke herself is torn by this struggle between trust and cynicism. "I think every black person's relationship to justice is complicated," she suggests. But Locke comes from a lineage of landowning Texans who rejected the Great Migration to the North and chose to stand their ground in the South. Looking at a family tree recently, she says, "I saw members of my family who became professors and state senators and who started schools where there weren't schools. There really was a sense of civic engagement, a feeling that this place is ours as much as anybody else's." Locke wanted to knit that sense of black rootedness into the novel; Darren Matthews, she writes, can "feel the breath of his ancestors in the trees." Bluebird was finished before the 2016 presidential election, but the book's crackling racial tension feels horribly well timed. The Texas Rangers leadership in the book refuses to acknowledge race has any bearing on investigations, making it near impossible for Matthews to do his job. Locke believes that this unwillingness to confront the unresolved legacies of white domination "infantilizes us and stops us from discussing important issues because we have no language or permission to talk deeply about it." The strange intimacy of black and white in the South -- "this familial thing that is odd and hard to capture" -- is precisely what fascinates her. Tucked inside the suspenseful twists of a mystery novel is a portrait of a place where white men's lives "revolved around the black folks they claimed to hate but couldn't leave alone." Locke explains, "If you think of the idea that black women metaphorically nursed this nation into being, if you think that black labor brought this country into being, it's like how you feel about your parents -- no matter how much you hate them, you kind of know you owe every damn thing to them. It is my belief that there are some white folks who . . . cannot tolerate that level of power, and so it gets twisted around into a sick hatred. Underneath that is a love that can't be understood or named." Although she'd been writing fiction since she was a kid, scribbling tales on the back of her father's legal stationery, Locke didn't think about writing a novel until 2004, when she grew disillusioned with her life as a Hollywood screenwriter. "Nothing ever got made, but I was very well paid," she shrugs. "But I wasn't really being myself." So Locke and her husband took out a second mortgage on their house while she wrote her debut novel, Black Water Rising, which earned glowing endorsements from legends James Ellroy and George Pelecanos and a nomination for an Edgar, the mystery genre's equivalent to the Oscar. Black Water Rising wove the history of American race relations into the tale of a lawyer and former civil rights activist ensnared in a murder case. "I was really trying to write a simple, slick thriller," Locke says with a throaty laugh. Instead she found herself sobbing on the floor of a Palm Springs hotel room as she realized how vulnerable the story's themes of racial conflict made her feel. "I was about to color myself to the world. Which seems dumb, because I'm clearly black -- but I was about to say to the world, I am not incidentally black. This is my worldview and it is tense in here. I am afraid in here." A stint writing for Fox's hit show Empire has given her the courage to try to translate this painful vision of racial discord and power imbalance into television. While she writes a sequel to Bluebird, she is also percolating a pitch for a TV show based on the book series. Even talking about the project scares her. "I am terrified that I will lay out these issues that feel life-and- death to me and it will be met with indifference by the industry, by executives," Locke says, voice wavering. "This is a show about the existential crisis in a black man's soul. If I get into a room with people going 'Nyaah,' it will break my heart." After a pause, Locke adds, "The good news about me is that I will be terrified and do it anyway."
Reviewer: Joy Press
The Barnes & Noble Review
Locke writes in a blues-infused idiom that lends a strain of melancholy and a sense of loss to her lyrical style.
The New York Times Book Review - Marilyn Stasio
At the start of this absorbing series launch set in East Texas from Edgar-finalist Locke (Pleasantville), Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is suspended from the force because he rushed, while off duty, to the aid of a friend in a dispute that turned violent. Then, against his family’s wishes and the law, he determines to check out a racially charged crime a few hours up the highway. In the desolate town of Lark, the bodies of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman have surfaced in a bayou within a few days of each other. Darren discovers that the town revolves around two prominent figures: Wally Jefferson, proprietor of a white supremacist bar and close confidant to the county sheriff, and Wally’s neighbor Geneva Sweet, a black business owner with her own brand of authority. As Darren investigates the two murders, he becomes immersed in Lark’s fraught history. Darren must deal with his conflicting loyalties to his family and to Texas, as well as his identity as a black man, as he struggles for justice in this tale of racism, hatred, and, surprisingly, love. Agent: Richard Abate, 3 Arts Entertainment. (Sept.)
Darren Matthews was born and raised in rural East Texas and is intimately acquainted with the racial tensions in its small towns. On suspension for an incident involving a friend who may have killed a man, the African American Texas Ranger is asked by an old FBI friend to look into the deaths of a black Chicago lawyer and a local white woman who were both found dead days apart in a bayou near Lark, TX. Once his boss learns of his new assignment, Mathews is reinstated and given authority to investigate. Locke, winner of the Harper Lee Prize for legal fiction (Pleasantville) and a writer and producer of the show Empire, has woven an atmospheric, convoluted mystery seasoned with racial tension and family loyalty. VERDICT Locke is a gifted author, and her intriguing and compelling crime novel will keep readers engrossed. [See Prepub Alert, 3/27/17.]—Sandra Knowles, South Carolina State Lib., Columbia
What appears at first to be a double hate crime in a tiny Texas town turns out to be much more complicated—and more painful—than it seems.With a degree from Princeton and two years of law school under his belt, Darren Mathews could have easily taken his place among the elite of African-American attorneys. Instead, he followed his uncle's lead to become a Texas Ranger. "What is it about that damn badge?" his estranged wife, Lisa, asks. "It was never intended for you." Darren often wonders if she's right but nonetheless finds his badge useful "for working homicides with a racial element—murders with a particularly ugly taint." The East Texas town of Lark is small enough to drive through "in the time it [takes] to sneeze," but it's big enough to have had not one, but two such murders. One of the victims is a black lawyer from Chicago, the kind of crusader-advocate Darren could have been if he'd stayed on his original path; the other is a young white woman, a local resident. Both battered bodies were found in a nearby bayou. His job already jeopardized by his role in a race-related murder case in another part of the state, Darren eases his way into Lark, where even his presence is enough to raise hackles among both the town's white and black residents; some of the latter, especially, seem reluctant and evasive in their conversations with him. Besides their mysterious resistance, Darren also has to deal with a hostile sheriff, the white supremacist husband of the dead woman, and the dead lawyer's moody widow, who flies into town with her own worst suspicions as to what her husband was doing down there. All the easily available facts imply some sordid business that could cause the whole town to explode. But the deeper Darren digs into the case, encountering lives steeped in his home state's musical and social history, the more he begins to distrust his professional—and personal—instincts. Locke, having stockpiled an acclaimed array of crime novels (Pleasantville, 2015, etc.), deserves a career breakthrough for this deftly plotted whodunit whose writing pulses throughout with a raw, blues-inflected lyricism.