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by Attica Locke
Mulholland, September 2019
304 pages
ISBN: 0316363405

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Darren Matthews is in all kinds of trouble. His marriage is a shaky alliance dependent on his good behavior. He's trying to placate his estranged and difficult mother, who holds a key piece of evidence that could get a friend convicted of murder and cost him his job as a Texas Ranger. Darren is unhappily stuck in at a desk poring over digital surveillance and chatroom logs of the local Aryan Brotherhood for a joint task force of state and federal investigators. Then he's chosen to assist a sheriff to investigate the disappearance of a nine-year-old boy who lived in a ramshackle trailer camp beside Lake Caddo.

It's a sensitive case. The boy's family is involved in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, and they're fighting amongst themselves, ripe for spilling secrets. The case the joint task force has been building against the group is close to yielding convictions after years of work, but Donald Trump has just been elected, and the feds' priorities might be changed. The local sheriff could use the help of a black Texas Ranger, since the land occupied by the white supremacist camp belongs to Leroy Page, the last of a line of free blacks who established Hopetown after emancipation. Though the family of the missing boy will object to his involvement, Darren can go places and ask questions that a white officer couldn't.

But things are more complicated than he expected. Page is the last person to have seen the boy alive, and he becomes a suspect. The FBI wants to make an example of him. If they charge him with a hate crime, it will prove to the incoming administration that they can investigate hate crimes with an even hand. And Page, who is in the process of selling his land to a shady developer, doesn't see Darren as an ally.

As in the first book in this series (BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD , the East Texas location is vividly drawn: the antebellum nostalgia tourism of Jefferson, the hidden community of Hopetown, where a family of Caddo Indians has lived in harmony with African Americans for generations, the vast, spooky lake where the boy disappeared, full of cypress swamps and bayous.

Darren's location in this landscape is also vividly drawn. Raised by two uncles, one a lawman and the other a civil rights lawyer, he embodies a conflict that divided them, whether to forgive or fight white oppression. Every step Darren takes in this case is fraught with that tension, and while he's unsure if a child raised by people filled with hate won't already have been poisoned by it, he seems to be the only person involved in the investigation who wants to find the missing nine-year-old.

The characters are rich, the dilemmas of race in America are unflinchingly depicted, and the complex plot is unfolded with evocative language. Once again, Attica Locke redeems the police procedural by raising issues of justice that are too often evaded, in fiction and in reality. Readers will look forward to following her future travels up Highway 59.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, July 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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