|Darktown by Thomas Mullen|
Publisher: Atria Books
Links: Goodreads | Indigo | Book Depository | Amazon | Kobo
"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."
This is a fantastic read. It's a compelling story about a murder and the racial tensions surrounding it in 1940s Atlanta. It's about what happens when the black officers try to do the job they were hired to do, without the constraints the white officers have put on them. It's incredible and eye-opening to read a story about cops who aren't publicly allowed to do their jobs - all because of the colour of their skin. They have the title of "Police Officer", but when they try to flag down a white officer to help them make an arrest, instead of help they nearly get run over as the white officers yell racial slurs and laugh. Not even the Records lady wants to help them when they request information.
The characters were fascinating. The main characters felt so well-rounded and full of life to me, and it was interesting to read their different perspectives. Boggs and Smith, both of whom have pride in their jobs and want to actually be able to help, go through and deal with so much over the course of this story. They're faced with the choice of obeying the rules black cops were bound by and not doing anything about the murder, or doing the right thing, the job they as human beings should be allowed to do. As I mentioned earlier, it was eye-opening to read about the horrible racism and injustice they faced every single day.
Rakestraw was also an interesting perspective because you can tell that he's uncomfortable with the way his partner, Dunlow, treats the African American people they encounter, and yet for a long time he cowers, not wanting to mess with his comfortable position among his fellow white officers. On one hand, seeing the awful ways in which the white cops treat black people, you can sort of understand being afraid to disrupt the status quo - but nonetheless, it was frustrating to read about Rake wanting to step in and stop the racism and brutality, and then doing nothing. It was a real relief when he decided to help Boggs and Smith with their investigation.
The city of Atlanta itself seems like a character - the way Mullen creates the atmosphere of 1940s Atlanta really brings the place to life, and the whole time, I felt like I was there. I could feel the thick, muggy heat - it, like the tension, was palpable.
This book is incredibly uncomfortable at times. It can be jarring to read or even think about how cruel humans can be to each other and how terribly prejudiced someone can be toward another simply because of the colour of their skin. The depth of injustice and of corruption in the police force back then is almost unimaginable, and Mullen does a great job of interweaving these tensions with a compelling murder mystery.
Now, while you go read this awesome book, be sure to check out this Darktown-inspired playlist:
*This book was kindly sent to me by Simon & Schuster Canada in exchange for an honest review.