Darktown (Thomas Mullen)

31020461.jpgAtlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white. On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement. When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, 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 of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines …

I was quite excited to read this! I love novels and films that deal with race issues and, of course, noir mysteries. In addition, this was set in 1948, so it had all the ingredients to win me over. And it certainly did.

The are three main characters in this book: Boggs, Smith and Rake. Boggs and Smith are among the first 8 black cops in Atlanta, Georgia. Although they are great at their jobs, they aren’t allowed to do most of the things a white cop would do. So when a black woman is found dead and they know of a possible witness, they find out they can’t carry out a proper investigation. Meanwhile, Rake is a white cop whose partner is violent and dangerous, especially towards black people. And Rake begins to suspect there’s something he’s hiding regarding that dead girl…

Darktown felt like a really important novel. While I could imagine how things were back then (especially in the south), I didn’t know about this particular moment in history, so it was all super interesting and informative. It made me so angry how everyone behaved around Boggs and Smith, I can’t believe the other cops were considered the good guys. They couldn’t arrest white people and they needed white cops in order to arrest someone. What kind of law is that? So unfair.

The characters were your typical noir characters, which is no problem for me since I love these type of dark books. My favorite, and I don’t think it will be a surprise, was Boggs. I felt Rake was way too passive when he could’ve prevented a lot of stuff. He was kind of a coward, although he surely redeemed himself as the book advanced.

The only thing that I missed in this book was feeling more attached to the story and its characters. Basically, I found the novel a bit too cold and while I understand that this is how the majority of the genre is written, I wanted to feel for them a bit more. However, I still think the topic is fascinating and it has loads of potential, so it would be a great idea if the author decided to write a sequel.

The book also dealt with police corruption, which is a topic I always like reading about. This was a complex and layered story, a classic police novel that focuses solely on the job. Somehow, it reminded me a bit of Dennis Lehane’s novels (which is the highest compliment I can offer) and now I know there’s going to be a tv show, I can’t wait to become addicted. Can I ask for Michael B Jordan as Smith 😋?

Little, Brown, 2016

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

22 thoughts on “Darktown (Thomas Mullen)

  1. FictionFan says:

    It’s amazing that this was as recent as 1948! I actually checked back to the beginning of your review because I thought it must be 1848 and I’d misread the date. I guess at least it shows things have changed a lot over the last few decades even if there’s still some way to go… Great review!


  2. Ola says:

    I also didn’t feel connected to the characters, but they ignite a lot of emotions in me anyway. Mainly anger, the racism really difficult for me to read about.


  3. Diana says:

    I like the sound of this book. The timeline and the themes all sound pretty intriguing. I have read a few books on black history and that time period but none that takes the angle of a police procedural. I will look out for this one.


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