Bluebird Bluebird

Written by Attica Locke

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Bluebird Bluebird
Serpent's Tail
RRP: £14.99
Released: September 27 2017

How far do you have to go before you are out of Texas? Darren Matthews made it to Chicago once, but that was where he received the law degree that enabled him to return to the Lone Star State and eventually join the Texas Rangers. Law, though, is as you find it, and justice can be a long way away. Matthews’s badge has been suspended due to his intervention in a possible interracial justifiable homicide, has a marriage on the rocks, and a drinking problem that he is only just keeping under control, when he decides to travel across the state and investigate a double murder in Shelby County.


It takes Matthews (Locke calls him Darren throughout) some time to work out what has happened: a black man has been found drowned, and subsequently a white girl murdered. The locus seems to be Geneva Sweet’s cafe – the only one in the town of Lark, and a long way from the next in Timpson, as she tells a dubious passing trucker. It is Matthews who connects the two deaths, and begins to chauffeur the dead man’s widow. She is an international photographer with a name: the sheriff wants to keep this local but Matthews is able to persuade the Rangers that there is more to this case than meets the eye and he is reinstated. That will not stop his work being at odds with the sheriff, particularly when the arrests begin.


Unlike some contemporary history there is no institutional racism in Shelby County, but there is much economic disadvantage, educational backwardness (neither poor blacks nor poor whites have grasped standard English, for instance, which makes comprehension even more difficult for someone trying to understand their accounts of events), and generally the two races rarely mix. The sheriff has managed to keep the Aryan Brotherhood miles away in the state penitentiaries, so sex and drink seem to be the only two common factors: they met when Missy Dale worked at Jeff’s Juice House.


Bluebird, Bluebird takes a long time to get going, and as a crime novel has some unusual features. It is page 189 before a suspect is arrested and another thirty before Matthews is told “You got two days, Ranger”. John Ball’s In the Heat of the Night was wrapping up at that point.


This is Locke’s fourth novel, though she is better known as a screenwriter, and the skills of the two media may not be transferable: Bluebird, Bluebird reads more like an extended treatment than a novel in many places. There’s that use of Darren Matthews’ first name. Too much is written in the passive voice (‘He entered the room’ rather than ‘Entering the room, he … ‘, which would invite a prospective event), so that we do not react with Matthews the protagonist. The most filmic aspect, though, is the use of flashbacks: chapter eighteen ends with a suspect’s statement ‘… not thirty minutes after we left him out there, the man and the car were gone’, for instance. Chapter 19 begins with a four page description of those events on the road told by an omniscient narrator, before a section break and then the sheriff saying ‘He’s lying’. It was CSI, the original TV series set in Las Vegas, I think, which began this, and it might work on television but it does not transfer easily to fiction, and is confusing to read, while the amount of detail can be mistaken for emphasis. (Don’t confuse flashback with retrospective narrative, as in Sunset Boulevard, a much older tradition).


Reach the end of this novel, though, and you may find those reservations irrelevant. The murders – and more – are solved, and you’ll have discovered a historic motive, and a clever plot both by the villain and by author Attica Locke. Highway 59 and local road FM19 provide no route maps, however, to the problems of the human heart.

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