Historical fiction at its best. Thomas Mullen presents a very real, not-too distant past of post-WWII where, as more of a PR event than actual progressive behavior, the Atlanta PD recruits African-American patrolmen, but denies them any actual authority. What happens in Darktown is standard noir fare – a man out of his element, a complex murder mystery, corrupt power – but Mullen’s setting is distinct and unique, not to mention depressing in ways that pre-Civil Rights tend to be.
Mullen’s writing style is a pleasure to read. He creates fantastically-believable, yet flawed as all humans are, characters that are ripe and real, that both dream and are subdued.
For this setting in the Atlanta summertime, the sun, and its heat, is just as much of a presence as are the story’s heroes and victims. Such as officers Boggs and Smith, two of the new Atlanta patrolmen who call Darktown their beat, who must deal with racism and social inadequacies, not only from the scores of white policemen, but also the community they desperately want to protect and serve. There is a fine line in playing the role of guardian and savior, a balance Boggs and Smith must learn, especially as they begin to look into the murder of a young African-American woman.
Mullen takes the reader both on a tour of 1950s Atlanta as well as into the justifications of Darktown’s central characters – Smith and Boggs, as well their white counterparts, Rakestraw and Dunlow – whose inner drives, and demons, are not as simple as black and white. Murder may always be a dark deed, but is justice always bright? Mullen, in a most excellent story, crafts his answer.
Give Darktown a read!