Police attitudes to Texas killings reveal the still rampant racism of the American justice system. Atmospheric, disturbing and beautifully written.
The novel is as much murder mystery as it is a meditation on race and on being loyal to one’s roots. It takes its title from a John Lee Hooker song and reflects the bluesman’s griefs. At the heart of the plot are family entanglements, both illicit and openly exposed like wounds. The pacing is expertly measured – though there are great surprises, they feel warranted and true.
The gripping plot is not just a simple black versus white narrative. There are suspects and good and bad people on both sides. Mathews attracts hostility from black characters as well as white... Locke’s message of injustice is the more convincing for being conveyed with restraint rather than ranting and fiery speech-making.
Steeped in the blues, the novel is both a celebration of Locke’s home state and a condemnation of the racism underpinning its culture. It also turns out to have been sowing seeds for a sequel right from the start. Bluebird, Bluebird is a novel composed of tricky balancing acts, all of which Locke makes appear effortless.
What is most satisfying about this crime novel is its use of the crime as a device with which to explore something much larger and universal, and to do so with copious amounts of space, in between the customary generic descriptions of corpses, shoot-outs and the love interest taking a shower in a motel room. Bluebird, Bluebird, taking its title from a John Lee Hooker song, is laced with a melancholy music, containing the pain and cruelty of America’s racial history, but it is at the same time a call to justice, a bright tune of a dark place...
Locke evokes place brilliantly, writes tangy, fluent prose, and here unfolds an expertly plotted triple whodunit that — arguably like all the best detective stories — ends with the sleuth getting more right than anyone else, but also (due to his preconceptions about race in rural communities) some significant things wrong.