Author of the Month

Name: Attica Locke

First Novel: Black Water Rising

Most Recent Book: Bluebird, Bluebird

'...a finely crafted novel with the most sublime prose. '

Southern fables usually go the other way around. A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.

But when it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules - a fact that Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well. Deeply ambivalent about his home state, he was the first in his family to get as far away from Texas as he could. Until duty called him home.

So when allegiance to his roots puts his job in jeopardy, he is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark, where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou. First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman, and it's stirred up a hornet's nest of resentment. Darren must solve the crimes - and save himself in the process - before Lark's long-simmering racial fault lines erupt.

With the recent events in Charlottesville on our screens with the head of white supremacy rearing its ugly head, ‘Bluebird, Bluebird’ seems as though Locke had a crystal ball to the future! But this is not only about that, it goes far deeper. It is not only about the colour of someone’s skin, but about history and heritage in deep Texas.

The tiny town of Lark could be classed as a ‘one horse town’. Everyone knows the other’s business, but still secrets are kept within its dark, dusty roads. Darren Mathews is a black Ranger whose own complicated life from childhood to adulthood mirrors that of some of the population of Lark. With his fierce determination to get to the truth, he uncovers secrets that go back decades.

This is not a sermon from Locke about race, but a finely crafted novel with the most sublime prose. I felt that every word and insinuation was carefully chosen and placed for maximum effect without turning this book into a potboiler. Locke really gets her hands dirty, digging down deep under the skin of her main characters.

Locke brings her novel to a sad, yet uplifting end whilst also delivering a final twist that means we will have to wait for her next book to see how Ranger Mathews deals with a particular problem close to home.

This is a fine novel from a supreme writer who not only delivered a great story, leaving me with the bitter taste of those dusty roads in Lark, but also giving me the smells of the deep South and a wonderful Blues soundtrack woven into the fabric of her story. An inspiring novel of fine artistry.

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) With all the recent news coverage regarding the riots in Charlottesville, do you feel these terrible events have lent more credence to your latest novel in regard to the racism felt by African-Americans in the southern parts of America? You also mention the case of James Byrd Jr. Do you think the US has made any progress since this horrendous crime in 1998?
The novel is depressingly realistic when it comes to pockets of racial hatred in the US. I’m not sure how to answer the piece about “progress.” Do I think there are fewer racist people in America than at any other time in history? Yes. Do I think there are far too many people who are blind to their own racial prejudice? Yes. Do I think there are people who genuinely have no problem with the black people in their lives, and they still voted to hold white supremacy in place [voted for Donald Trump]? Yes. Do I still think racism is a sickness at the heart of this country? Yes. Do I think black people are still dying because of it? Yes.
2) Darren Mathews is an officer with the Texas Rangers. Where did Mathews come from and will we hear more from him? Will it become a series under the title of Highway 59?
Yes, this is the beginning of a book series—with stories all along Highway 59 in East Texas. And Darren will be a part of them all. He came about because I wanted to create a character who could logically be involved in stories across a large geographical space, and that’s what the Rangers are. They are unlike any other law enforcement agency in the country. Plus, I thought writing about a black “cop” in the American South was interesting—especially one who is wrestling with his responsibilities and his allegiance to the badge.
3) Your description of the Texan landscape is very vivid and in some cases, full of respect and love for the place. Do you feel the landscape is as important to a novel as the people who populate your work?
I feel like you can’t understand a character outside of the time and space in which they live their lives. So, yes, I think setting in a novel is huge.
4) ‘Bluebird, Bluebird’ ends on a note that throws Darren’s life in turmoil. Will you be continuing this issue in your next novel?
Oh yes!
5) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
It’s just one sentence after another. You will only find the book in the writing itself. It’s impossible to know what it will be until you actually start writing it. As Jane Smiley has once said—and I’m paraphrasing here—“Writing is writing. Writing is not planning.” Get to work!
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you and would take with you to a desert island?
Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

But I also tend to hold the belief that every novel is a crime novel—be it a literal theft or act of violence, or a crime of the heart or a moral crime as part of the plot. At the centre of every novel is a transgression—a literal or emotionally violent conflict that the main characters are working through.