As an Atlantan who thought I had a good grasp of local history, Darktown by Thomas Mullen was a splash of cold water in the face. Very informative.
Two rookie black officers must investigate a murder case that the whites don’t care about, or worse, are covering up. In the first few chapters, Darktown reminded me of other police procedurals where the clean/honest cops (in this case, the black rookies) have to investigate around the dirty cops (here, the ultra-segregationists on the police force). But the further the story develops, the clearer it becomes how severely the deck is stacked against the black officers. They are dealing not just with discrimination in the police force, but when they’re off-duty as well, which complicates their unofficial investigation even further.
The book vividly illustrates the effect of segregation on the black community in Atlanta and rural Georgia in the 1940s. Highly recommended.
In Out of the Blues by Trudy Nan Boyce, an experienced police officer (but homicide newbie) nicknamed Salt must reopen an investigation into the suspicious death of a blues musician. Fortunately for Salt, she is a bigtime blues fan and already knows the major players and venues in the Atlanta blues scene. She’s also smart and has a knack for finessing the truth out of suspects and witnesses.
Unfortunately, the homicide unit assigns no partner to Salt. She’s on her own even though it’s her first case. This is dangerous because the case involves a criminal, drug-dealing, pimping syndicate. The investigation also involves links to powerful men in Atlanta, including the pastor of a big church and a fellow police officer who is an unofficial gatekeeper for cops working part-time jobs for extra money. Salt is strong, but she is also vulnerable and has to work diligently and carefully to overcome these obstacles.
Salt is also the only woman on her shift. This causes some awkwardness and necessitates some heroics to prove herself. But the gender roles in the book are handled with a fairly light touch—not nearly as heavy-handed as Karin Slaughter’s Cop Town, which focused on the stacked deck against women and resistance to social change in the Atlanta police department 40 years earlier. Out of the Blues is much less focused on cultural commentary than Cop Town. Those looking for a more straightforward police procedural in Atlanta without the social analysis will prefer this book.
One weakness of Out of the Blues is the dialogue. The characters use long words, speak in long sentences, and have very long conversations without major payoffs. Nevertheless, Salt is engaging and the story is strong enough to carry the reader’s interest to the tidy ending.