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DARKTOWN BY THOMAS MULLEN

PUBLISHED BY SIMON & SCHUSTER
REVIEW BY DAVID COHEN

It’s hard to investigate a murder when one of your hands is tied behind your back.

Atlanta, Georgia, 1948: Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are part of the first eight African-American policemen hired by the city. They can’t drive squad cars, work out of police headquarters, or arrest white people. This is America, though, so they do get to have guns.

Boggs and Smith are at best despised by their white colleagues. How racist was it? Some African-American World War Two veterans were lynched for daring to wear their army uniform in public.

Darktown is a tremendous crime novel that is also a compelling insight into the racial schism that divides America. Darktown is the racist nickname for Sweet Auburn, the part of town Boggs and Smith are supposed to keep to. The officers see a car hit a Darktown light post: inside is a drunk white man, and a young black woman with bruises on her face. The man, a former cop, is let off, and the woman turns up dead a few days later.

Cue Boggs and Smith’s investigation. Violence, more death, astonishing prejudice, injustice, and a whole lot of pressure is seen by the two officers (one a preacher’s son, one from the wrong side of the tracks). At one point Boggs tells someone he needs to be alone. “Brother, you are precisely that,” is the uncomforting reply.

This is a must-read if you like well-written police procedurals: Mullen is just as good as Michael Connelly and James Lee Burke. It will also make you wonder about the USA, and why there isn’t more racial conflict in that incredible yet troubled nation.

Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.