Two murders in the tiny town of Lark in East Texas, the bodies found a few days apart. It’s only on the discovery of the second body that any real investigation is put into place. African-American Chicago lawyer Michael Wright was found dead in the swamp. But it’s the body of Missy, a young white woman and waitress at the ice house, the only bar in town, that results in anything more than cursory questioning.
With a population of so few, repercussions of the deaths are massive, particularly when suspended Texas Ranger Darren Mathews turns up (not that he’s revealing his suspension to anyone). Now Lark sees itself dealing with not only an African-American murder victim but also an unwelcome African-American lawman – and a Texan Ranger at that. With suspected outlawed white supremacists, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, active in the county and likely involved in the murder of Wright, a troubled Mathews has been tipped off by friend and FBI contact, Greg. Solving this case would help both careers.
Mathews is a proud Texan and a sense of home and loyalty is integral to Bluebird Bluebird:
The badge was to say this land is my land, too, my state, my country, and I’m not gon’ be run off. I can stand my ground, too. My people built this, and we’re not going anywhere.
With both his uncles lawmen in the State, he’s the first Texan Ranger in the family, in spite of initially training as a lawyer – a decision that has put strains on his marriage. Michael Wright, too, was a local and from a couple of counties further north – yet he had left for Chicago. But he had returned.
With the comings and goings of an investigation, the main focus to the narrative is Geneva Sweet’s Sweets on the main drag of Route 59 passing through Lark – a catch-all roadhouse, diner, barbers, provisions, even a dram of illicit whisky to the right customer. Not that there was much of an initial investigation until the second body appeared. Geneva’s place is normally a safe-haven for all travellers. Yet both bodies were found in the bayou out back with evidence showing that both victims were at the diner the night before they were killed. Geneva has been on site for 40 years – she, too, was going nowhere, in spite of the death (presumed murdered) of both husband Joe Sr and son, Joe Jr.
Racial tensions are ever prevalent in Lark, a backwater darkened by poverty that was once a plantation. Characters black and white are fully formed in Attica Locke’s crime thriller – whether it’s the Texas Ranger too fond of his whisky, the wary Geneva, the lord of the manner Wally from a family too used to getting its own way in ‘their town’ or an out-of-place Randie, widow of Wright, shocked to see her worst fears of Texan racism proven true. Locke is a stylish writer and a teller of a good story who perfectly captures a sense of place – even if Bluebird, Bluebird doesn’t always ring true and slips into the occasional agit-prop. Nice ending though!