Thomas Mullen certainly gives his readers the service they want with Lightning Men. Building off the previous novel, Darktown, Mullen goes deeper into the plight of Boggs and Smith and their careers as Atlanta’s first African-American police officers. He builds on the story of Officer Denny Rakestraw, a white officer who is not totally opposed to the idea of black officers, but finds himself living in a transition town – white suburbia now threatened to become another Darktown. Mullen’s plot twists and turns with real estate deals, moonshine and marijuana, and tensions between the always-incompetent KKK and their threatening successors, the Colombians. All and this more is breached cover-to-cover in one of the very few times that the old adage once made famous by Sir Mick about too much never being enough is unfortunately not true as Lightning Men suffers from that dreaded curse of sequelitis.
You know, that stigmata is not entirely fair. Lightning Men is a compelling, well-written, and highly entertaining read. Mullen fleshes out 1950s Atlanta and presents the attitude of the city and the blatant bigotry throughout. Mullen digs deeper with his plot, tying various, complicated threads to key characters and letting the reader watch it all unfold. Yet, some of this plot is too obtuse. The map presented sprawls and rambles as long and as wide as Peachtree Street. Maybe Mullen binge watches Game of Thrones and as such, gives too much importance to the B-, C-, and D-story arcs, thus taking away the importance – and the very relevance – of the A-story. Crime novel readers don’t want a ramble down a shady lane in the sun. They want a punch to the gut. Hard punches. With a blow to the nose and a killer uppercut to knock you out. Lightning Men doesn’t have enough punches, but plenty of weaving and feints.
Lightning Men is a worthy follow-up and is successful in structuring, then embellishing, the characters’ arcs. However, too many new characters are introduced and with that comes a level of convenience in working the plot around these new characters and as a result, the story suffers.
Just a little. But just too much.
Yet not enough to keep me away from my next visit to Darktown.