Review published on January 30, 2018.
This novel is set in East Texas in the small, poor, rural communities around Highway 59.
Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger who was planning to pursue a legal career when family events made him feel the need to enlist and to find justice for all. Darren is far from perfect but is driven to find the truth however unpalatable it might be. Suspended during his involvement with a court case, Darren travels to Lark (pop. 200) as a favour for a friend. A black man, then a white girl, have been found dead. To the locals, this is a reversal of the usual pattern. Darren has already been looking into an organisation called the Texas Aryan Brotherhood and it is to these white supremacists that the case takes him. This is a complicated tale, with battle lines being drawn between poor blacks and tattooed, shaven-headed poor whites and I found it shocking in many ways.
The image of the USA as the land of plenty and the land of the free that we might see in the movies is completely eclipsed by this raw and real story of what is happening in rural communities. Near the beginning of the novel, Darren states that ‘Criminality, once it touched black life, was a stain hard to remove’. Generations of unfairness just don’t go away because we wish it to be so.
Darren is an interesting character and there are more of these on every page. Frankie, the glamorous wife of victim Michael Wright, works for a magazine in Chicago. She cannot comprehend what has happened to her husband and is stunned and overwhelmed by what has happened. Her beautiful white cashmere coat which collects dirt and stains is a very visual symbol of the story of her stay in Lark.
Geneva is the cafe proprietor whose family are involved with the murdered pair. Her friends and family, and indeed many of the residents are fully formed characters who carry the story to its conclusion.
There are few ‘winners’ here. Right and wrong? Not so clear cut. The ending is breathtaking.
I would happily give this novel 5 stars as a personal read and 5 for reading groups too.
Dorothy Anderson 5/5
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