Published by Simon and Schuster on September 13th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Police Procedural, Thrillers, Crime, African American
ARC provided by BEA 2016, Simon & Schuster
In the tradition of our most acclaimed suspense writers, the author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in Atlanta, a ripped-from-the-headlines depiction of a world on the cusp of great change involving race relations, city politics, and police corruption.
Responding from pressure on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers in 1948. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even use the police headquarters and must instead operate out of the basement of a gym.
When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against an old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood like his own, and Dunlow’s young partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines.
Set in the post-war, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane, and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice.
This is such a moving piece of fictionalized American history. In 1948 the first black officers are hired in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Racial tensions are still very high and although the city appoints these officers to patrol over their own streets they have very little power; no patrol cars (no radios to call for backup), no arrest powers (only whites can make an actual arrest), and they can’t even go to police headquarters (their headquarters are in a YMCA gym basement). Still black officers Boggs and Smith are determined to do their jobs and do their part to keep their town safe. When a black girl is found dead minutes after being seen in the car with a white ex-officer white officers Dunlow and Rakes are called to the scene. Boggs and Rake, officers of different color, find themselves working the same case and find corruption running deep in the police department.
This book was so well written. The racially divided city is a place where being on the wrong side could get you killed. Encounters between blacks and whites in this story had me cringing and holding my breath. Atlanta officials had a good idea to implement black officers to patrol their own streets, since white officers have no interest in patrolling crime ridden Darktown. Giving these black cops almost no rights, just a badge and gun, makes doing the job correctly almost impossible. Atlanta is a city where blacks still have virtually no right and whites have no issue reminding them of this fact. White cops don’t drawn a distinction between the criminals in Darktown and the black cops themselves.
The mystery of who killed the girl is the foundation of this story. The investigation, which shouldn’t of even happen since the white cops decided to pin it on the girl’s step-father, takes us deep into racially divided territory. Boggs and Smith are beat cops, not investigators, and black cops to boot. They have no business investigating this murder, even though the body was found on their beat. The same goes for white rookie officer Rake, who finds his partner’s dealings with black citizens corrupt and disgusting. Although the author makes Rake somewhat of a hero, he has no experience investigating and even less experience with black people.
Although this story is a work of fiction, it is impossible not to think about what it was actually like for the first black officers in Atlanta. The author starts this story out with a quote by retired officer Willard Strickland, Atlanta Police Department, in a 1977 speech recalling his 1948 induction as one of the first eight African American Officers:
“I must tell you, it was not easy for me to raise my right hand and say, ‘I, Willard Strickland, a Negro, do solemnly swear to perform the duties of a Negro Policeman.’”
This story started slowly but managed to keep my attention throughout. There were a few tension filled scenes that didn’t do much to move the story along, but did add depth to the characters. Even with those small flaws I can still see why this story has been picked up by Sony, and the author has decided to make this story a series of books. I was completely invested in this story and I highly recommend people pick this up. This is not light light reading, it is eye opening. Darktown is a damn close look at what racial discrimination looks like and what ‘policing’ really means.