On the surface, Attica Locke is not reinventing the proverbial cop mystery wheel with her Highway 59 series. Her protagonist is a lone wolf who drinks too much, meddles in other affairs, has woman and family troubles, doesn’t get along with the brass, plays by his own rules, and is a byproduct of the local culture, which he simultaneously loves and loathes.
The difference between these and most other white-written bestselling cliched mystery series is that main character Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is black, and these books are written by a black woman. While there have been plenty of excellent black mystery writers before Locke, her bestselling/awards success holds a mirror to the mystery genre for how white supremacy operates in the United States.
This is my third Attica Locke book and it’s probably time to anoint her as one of my favorite writers. Black Water Rising made my Top 10 last year and the first two in the Highway series will likely follow. She’s created a fully realized protagonist in Darren Matthews. His weak spots are not seen as hurdles to overcome, rather they make him human and Locke writes him in such a way that it’s impossible not to feel empathy for him, even as he’s making dumb mistakes. With a lot of mystery series, the protagonist’s private troubles often serve as a distraction for the mystery narrative. Such is not the case with Matthews.
But the mystery narrative is written well too. And this is one of the main reasons why I love Locke’s work so much: she’s good with municipal corruption. I’ve got a soft spot for municipal corruption tales. And what she does with them: wrap all the characters into major consequences around the mystery and the back story of this particular stretch of Texas coupled with current events in America (the story takes place on the heels of Trump’s election), makes for a hell of a book.
I probably liked this one a hair more than Bluebird, Bluebird. Both are excellent. So is Locke. I can’t wait for more of this series.