Attica Locke’s Bluebird Bluebird, now the first in her Highway 59 series, was one of the best crime novels of 2017. That’s not just my opinion. The book won both the Edgar (American Crime Writers’ Association) and a Dagger (British Crime Writers’ Association) in 2018 along with a bunch of other awards. That book left on a kind of cliffhanger which is not resolved quickly and influences all of the action in Heaven, My Home, a sequel that is just as good.
It is November 2016, Donald Trump has just been elected and Texas Ranger Darren Mathews is office-bound, deep in the ongoing investigation into home-grown white-suprematist terrorist group the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or ABT. When the son of an ABT captain, currently in prison, goes missing, Mathews is sent back into the heart of East Texas, to see what comes out of the investigation. He ends up in the former riverboat boom town of Jefferson and the nearby settlement of Hopetown, founded by freed slaves after the Civil War, and in the middle of more racial tensions. Meanwhile, his mother continues to blackmail him over the murder of another ABT member that he is still trying to cover up.
In Heaven, My Home, Locke once again uses the lens of crime fiction to peel back and shine a light on the history and culture of East Texas. Her descriptions of both Hopetown and Jefferson and their inhabitants are rich and nuanced, giving a deep sense of place. And, as with Bluebird Bluebird, a complex history going back to before the Civil War, has relevance to the point where it still influences relationships in the present. But Locke also explores the changes wrought by the 2016 election, even before Trump was inaugurated:
One by one, they each acknowledged that something had shifted in the past four weeks, not just in the world at large but in their job too. They were dealing with things they’d never seen in their lifetimes, stories they’d only heard from older men in the department: church burnings; the defacement of a mosque in Bryan; black and brown kids shoved in lunchrooms, spit on in gym class; a Mexican woman currently in critical condition after she was attacked in front of her husband and three kids in the parking lot of a Kroger in Fort Worth.
Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, can’t help but be affected by these changes. He is constantly dealing with direct and casual racism, even from one of his oldest friends. But he is also dealing with his nascent alcoholism, a rocky marriage, and a mother who is extorting affection from him through blackmail. But like many damaged fictional detectives, he is also very good at his job, even when that comes at the expense of any cordial relationship with local law enforcement.
All of this is wrapped in a tale involving a missing nine year old boy (who was probably no angel himself), rising racial tensions, dodgy developers and the ongoing attempt to gather evidence on members of the ABT while there is still authorisation to do so.
Heaven, My Home is another superb novel from Locke. Insightful, atmospheric, engaging and tense.