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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Darktown: A Novel


ISBN: 9781501133862 Publisher: Atria Books

Publication Date: 9/13/2016

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars +++ Top Books of 2016 In the tradition of our most acclaimed suspense writers, the author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in Atlanta, a ripped-from-the-headlines depiction of a world on the cusp of great change involving race relations, city politics, and police corruption. Responding to pressure from on high, the Atlanta police department is forced to hire its first black officers. It’s a victory of sorts, though the newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers and their authority is limited: They can’t arrest a suspect unless a white officer is present; they can’t drive a squad car; they can’t even enter the station through the front door. When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man with connections to the APD turns up fatally beaten, no one seems to care except for Lucius and Boggs, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds, who risk their jobs, the trust the community has put in them, and even their own safety to investigate her death. When their efforts stall they have to work alongside fellow officers who include the old-school cop, Dunlow, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Set in the post-war, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice.


“One incendiary image ignites the next in this highly combustible procedural…written with a ferocious passion that’ll knock the wind out of you.”

—The New York Times Book Review

“Fine Southern storytelling meets hard-boiled crime in a tale that connects an overlooked chapter of history to our own continuing struggles with race today.”

—Charles Frazier, bestselling author of Cold Mountain

“This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy.”

—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In the way the story is told coupled with its heightened racial context, Darktown reminded me of Walter Mosley or a George Pelecanos novel.”

—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“High-quality…crime fiction with a nimble sense of history…quick on its feet and vividly drawn.” —Dallas Morning News

“Some books educate, some books entertain, Thomas Mullen’s Darktown is the rare book that does both.”

—Huffington Post

"A brilliant blending of crime, mystery, and American history (Atlanta, just after WWII). Terrific entertainment." -- Stephen King

"Mullen is a wonderful architect of intersecting plotlines and unexpected answers. But you also want justice, which you know neither Mullen nor our own time can provide...Compelling works of fiction such as Mullen’s walk a fine line between art that reminds us of horrors past and art that trades on them with pieces too unfinished to play with."

― Washington Post

As his previous historical novels have proven, Mullen is skilled at bringing the past to life, both socially and visually… fans of well-written literary thrillers will want this expert example.

― Library Journal

From the very first page of Darktown, I was stunned, mesmerized, and instantly a huge fan of Tom Mullen. Beyond the history and the thrilling mystery, the book’s soul lies in the burgeoning partnership (and dare I say friendship) at the center of the book. It’s a reminder of the ties that cut across race in America. There is nothing I love more in a book than hope.

-- Attica Locke ― author of Pleasantville

Fine Southern storytelling meets hard-boiledcrime in a tale that connects an overlooked chapter of history to our owncontinuing struggles with race today.

-- Charles Frazier ― author of Cold Mountain

Mullen uses the lens of a twisted murder mystery to unsettle readers with his unflinching looks at racism in post-WWII Atlanta… This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy.

― Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

“Mullen succeeds in delivering a narrative heartbreakingly irresistible”

― Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

Mullen’s writing is extremely evocative in bringing the pre–civil rights South to life.

― Booklist (Starred Review)

“Gripping…. A complicated crime fiction that melds an intense plot with fully realized characters… Mullen's unflinching description[s] add to the realism and relevance of Darktown.”

― Associated Press

"[An] absorbing new mystery, reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow in a genre mood."

― USA Today

“This a particularly satisfying read.”

― Kirkus Reviews 10 Favorite Crime Noves of the Year

"In the way the story is told coupled with its heightened racial context, “Darktown” reminded me of a Walter Mosley or a George Pelecanos novel."

― Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Tenebrous and super-cinematic…and in no small sense reminiscent of 1997’s L.A. Confidential.” ― Seattle Review of Books

"In a year when the literary community has seen some stellar releases examining the issue of race in unique ways – books like Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad – Darktown stands beside Revolver by Duane Swierczynski as examples of how crime fiction can elucidate the topic with pinpoint accuracy. This novel should be required reading for both police forces nationwide and the citizens they seek to protect."

― BOLO Books

“Darktown is a compelling well-crafted read, and a reminder of how far we have come as a nation from a time when race defined success and opportunity. Or have we?”

― New York Journal of Books

“This is high-quality historical crime fiction with a nimble sense of history and well-researched details, quick on its feet and vividly drawn.”

― Dallas Morning News

“It is no surprise the much anticipated DARKTOWN is more than just a fictional crime thriller- infused with historical details and timely controversial subjects.” ― JDC Must Read Books, 5 Star Review

“Some books educate, some books entertain, Thomas Mullen’s DARKTOWN is the rare book that does both…a novel that holds up a mirror to the vestiges of discrimination that remain alive and well today.” ― Huffington Post

"Hitting the page like the second coming of Ellroy, Mullen delivers a timely and tense story set in Atlanta in the days immediately following World War II...a throroughly modern, compelling thriller that resonates and crackles with dark energy."

― B&N Reads, September's Best New Thrillers

“An addictive novel…reminiscent of Dennis Lehane novels.”

― The Missourian

“Mullen’s epic novel works both as a fast-paced, hard-boiled thriller with the sweep of L.A. Confidential and as a vivid depiction of systemic police racism and corruption, all the while alive to the complexities and subtleties surrounding class, religion and sex within the black community. In this age of Black Lives Matter, a historical crime novel might well be the most topical book of the season.”

― Irish Times

"Novelist Mullen’s research is impeccable…This novel is highly recommended for those who like a good police procedural and for those interested in the African-American struggle to cross over the thin blue line of policing."

― Historical Novel Society

"Mullen’s attention to historical detail and living, breathing narrative draws readers into an engaging crime story."

― Creative Loafing Atlanta

“At times, the day-to-day experience of blacks and whites living in the Jim Crow south seen through this fictional lens seems like bulletins from a distant past, something long gone and half-forgotten, shocking in its strangeness. At other times it reads like tomorrow's headlines.”

― Reviewing the Evidence

“Darktown is a powerful book. When you’ve read it, it will reverberate in your thoughts continuously.”

― Spare Change News

“The plot has the hallmarks of a classic noir mystery, making the novel an enjoyable read both for mystery fans and for readers who want to get a better sense of life in the segregated south shortly after World War II.”

― Tzer Island

“Darktown is a thrilling, fast-paced crime novel, but the complex questions it raises will haunt readers long after the final page,”

― The Toledo Blade


My Review

A special thank you to Atria and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review. 5 Stars Most Anticipated Book of 2016! Worth all the hype and more. CONGRATS, to Mullen: Landing Amy Pascal & Jamie Foxx Team For 1940s TV Crime Drama About Race ‘DARKTOWN.’ Thomas Mullen has brilliantly crafted a cast of unforgettable characters in DARKTOWN with a mysterious murder, a southern black woman in 1948, amid strains of the civil rights movement. "Cop Procedural Thriller and Best Cover of 2016!"

"Boggs and Smith’s quest for truth and justice are thwarted by Officer Lionel Dunlow, an unabashed white supremacist, and his partner, Denny Rakestraw, a forerunner of the New South who recognizes injustice when he sees it, but lacks the moral courage required to affect significant change."

A gritty cop procedural, in which the streets of 1948, the sweltering heat and humidity of an Atlanta, GA summer- a city just as dangerous for black cops, as for criminals. The city’s first African American officers. An induction- However, unfortunately, here in the South, these officers were not respected, or treated equally as the whites. NO where close. Second class citizens, only moving a little from the back of the bus, and now in, even greater danger. Meet Officer Lucius Boggs, and his partner Tommy Smith. From different backgrounds, their office was in the basement of the Negro YMCA, a makeshift precinct. Off color jokes were made and slang terms relating to their “walking a beat” compared to the running of laps, or paperwork/lifting weights, in relation to their ramshackle headquarters (hot in the summer, cold in the winter). Things were as good as they could be for a Southern Negro in Atlanta, or were they settling?. Were they any different in Alabama or North Carolina? How long would it take to walk to Chicago where so many people had ventured for in search for a better life? Were there choices? The novel chronicles the case of a black woman who turns up fatally beaten after last seen in a car driven by a white man, which deepens the divide in the police department. Atlanta police officers were ordered to abide by a strict moral code—no drinking, even at home, and no womanizing—but that had not entirely sunk in with Tommy Smith. The Negro officers dutifully avoided alcohol, as they knew all too well that a witness could report them and get them suspended, but for Smith the idea of suddenly becoming a chaste man was altogether too much. Boggs had always felt marked for something bigger, a curse of being raised by a reverend. The son of a minister, and though he had chosen not to follow in his father’s footsteps, the idea of tomcatting across town the way his partner did was utterly foreign to him. The white officers were the worst!

Also purchased audiobook (currently listening) by the talented "Andre Holland"--highly recommend!

One day they would most likely run over them and insist it was an accident. They had been officers for just under three months, walking the beats around Auburn Avenue (the neighborhood where both had lived all their lives save the war years), and the West Side, on the other side of downtown. Although Atlanta’s eight Negro officers had not yet been entrusted with squad cars (hello), they did have uniforms, (yippee) plus fire arms, (living on the edge) which terrified a number of white people in Atlanta and beyond. They were not detectives, only beat cops. They had no squad cars and were forbidden from entering the white headquarters. They could not conduct investigations. By the time they walked to a call box to call in a report, and the whites came, they did nothing but laugh in their faces. White people were not often found in Sweet Auburn, the wealthiest Negro neighborhood in Atlanta—Possibly in the country. Adventurous whites looking for gambling, or whores in the darker parts of town would normally troll along Decatur Street by railroad tracks, a half mile to the south. On the West side of town was where most of Atlanta’s colored neighborhoods were in dire conditions. The end of the war had brought a population to the city with farmers fleeing sharecropping to find something only slightly less horrible. Families packed into one room apartments with poor living conditions, no garbage collection or enforcement of housing codes. The novel revolves around an investigation. A woman, light-skinned and young, in her early twenties, in a canary-yellow sundress, was with a white man in a car driving reckless. Colored officers only patrolled the colored parts of town, where whites were infrequent visitors. This man said Boggs did not have the power to arrest him when they stopped him. They were worried about the girl. The Buick took off almost running them over. “Stop, or I’ll call the real cops.” Smith shook his head, “Funny how that don’t work.” Atlanta, GA. Two parts Confederate racist to two parts Negro to one part something that doesn’t quite have a name. Neither city or country but some odd combination, a once sleepy railroad crossing that had exploded due to the wartime need for material and the necessities of shipping it. The South was very good a providing cheap, non-unionized labor. So the town continued to grow. Twenty blocks away we meet Officer Denny Rakestraw and partner Lionel Dunlow. Rake had seen Dunlow beat at least a dozen men (usually blacks) rather than arresting them, and instructed those on what to say to stand witness at a trial. From bribes from bootleggers and numbers runners, and madams. Dunlow ranked high on Boggs’ and Smith’s list of most hated white officers. They were called "jungle monkeys” and verbally and physically abused daily. Dunlow never arrested white men. Only blacks. Boggs was smart and the white officers made fun of his prolific writing skills, when writing reports. Dunlow falsified reports, beaten people, re-typed their reports, eliminating critical information, murder, racial injustice, corruption. They were not even allowed to identify bodies in the morgue. A detective had to be present. How could they bring him down? Rake had survived against steep odds for years in Europe—from threats collaborators and spies. Back home in Atlanta, however, he was finding the moral territory more difficult to chart than he expected. Rake refused to play along with Dunlow’s sick games. He was smart. Could he be an ally for Boggs and Smith- Someone to count on to get in places they couldn’t? Could he be trusted? Rake’s mother never permitted the N word to be spoken in their house growing up. He grew up respecting everyone, no matter their color. The colored officers were only allowed to work the 6-2 shift, and there were only eight of them, so the white officers had occasion to visit what was now the colored officers’ turf. No white cops had ever had Auburn Ave. beat. Now they seem interested. The woman they had seen earlier in the yellow sundress with the white man turns up dead. In a garbage dump surrounding by decaying food, hardly recognizable. A six- year old boy Horace saw the pretty lady in the yellow dress running. The lady was banging on someone’s door. The white man had stopped to find her. Smith and Boggs had seen her in that car with the white man who hit her and they were not able to help. A desperate search for answers for this girl and her unknown family. The white officers couldn’t care less about a dead colored girl, especially one found in a dump. The man’s name was Brian Underhill (a former cop) and he was selectively left out of the report. They were obsessed trying to find out more about the mysterious Black Jane Doe. A yellow dress, a heart-shaped locked, and a birthmark on her right shoulder was all they had to go on. What was the connection between Underhill and Dunlow? A colored girl, Lily Ellsworth. What was her story? What had led her to her death? Only Boggs and Smith had seen her the night she died. July 9 in Darktown. Their heart broken for her and the cruelty of whites. Someone had taken advantage of a situation. A white man named Brian Underhill (former cop)—what was he hiding? What about the family and the connection? Justice! From murder, corruption, and conspiracy. The dark underbelly of Atlanta. Black cops were denied overtime and made far less than white cops, and when they had been needed in a courtroom, the judge even refused to let them enter in uniform. They had to carry their uniforms and change in a custodial closet. Everything they had to encounter was dangerous. Worn down, fighting against every turn, Boggs and Smith have no other choice than to break a few rules, even risk being fired to get to the bottom of this cruel murder. Will they have some help? Smith says to Bogg: “Remind me why we are doing this?” “To be upstanding citizens and paragons of our race. To provide a good example for colored kids. There weren’t better jobs.”Give me more . . . .

•“Maceo Snipes” shot in the back for being the first Negro voter in Taylor County. •“Isaac Woodard” War veteran blinded two years ago by SC cops for daring to wear his Army uniform. •“The Malcolms and Dorseys” Two married couples including another vet and a pregnant woman, ambushed and murdered on a bridge over the Apalachee River. Smith opened his eyes. “Give me those keys.” WOW, Mullen delves deep – from suspense, mystery, crimes, racial injustices, dirty law enforcement, and a changing world in the South--amid city politics and police corruption. If you have read any of Karin Slaughter’s books set in Atlanta, from women to racial cop corruption- fans will devour Mullen’s ride through DARKTOWN. In Slaughter’s Cop Town, set in 1970 Atlanta, the city was still bubbling over with racial and political unrest. From women, blacks to whites. A divided town. Look where we are today in 2016? Almost 70 years later. We are still dealing with similar racial issues. When reading DARKTOWN set in 1948 Atlanta, compared to Cop Town set in 1970 Atlanta---“There is still nothing pretty about this divided cop town. But in exposing its ugliness, Slaughter forces us to question whether times really have changed. There was no precedent to follow, no Jim Crow Guide to Colored Policing. They had survived into adulthood by proceeding warily, yet now they were expected to walk with heavy step and newfound power through their neighborhoods. In some parts, they were expected to vanish. It is no surprise the highly anticipated DARKTOWN is more than just a fictional crime thriller- infused with historical details and timely controversial subjects. It has been picked up by Hollywood! Deadline. So Excited.

Indeed, Mullen accomplished his goal in a bold way, and hoping we hear more from these unforgettable courageous characters. Entertaining and Insightful. His best yet! Having spent my entire career in Atlanta, in the media industry, I love revisiting the vibrant city, from past to present, watching these areas come alive again today. In some ways, we have come a long way, and others- we are back living in the darkness.

Review Links:

A Conversation with Thomas Mullen, author of “Darktown”

Thomas Mullen

About the Author

Thomas Mullen is the author of The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA TODAY. He was also awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers and The Revisionists. His works have been named to Year’s Best lists by The Chicago Tribune and USA TODAY, among others. His stories and essays have been published in Grantland, Paste, and the Huffington Post, and his Atlanta Magazine true crime story about a novelist/con man won the City and Regional Magazine Award for Best Feature.

He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons. Read More

DARKTOWN Describes Hatred And Hope Huffington Post

‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen has intense plot The Washington Post

Congrats, Thomas . .

Breaking News!

Deadline Hollywood by Nellie Andreeva Jan 14, 2016

Amy Pascal & Jamie Foxx Team For 1940s TV Crime Drama About Race ‘Darktown’

In a very competitive situation with five TV studios pursuing, Amy Pascal and Sony Pictures Television have landed the rights to Darktown, an upcoming crime novel by The Last Town on Earth author Thomas Mullen.

Pascal has teamed with Jamie Foxx to executive produce the project, with PascalPictures’ Rachel O’Connor producing.

Amy Pascal & Jamie Fox

Set in Atlanta in 1948, the story centers on the city’s first black police officers — whose hire in the department as a result from pressure on high is met with vitriol from their white counterparts and distrust within their own African American community.

In a culture and time when blacks were still relegated to the back of the bus, the officers are treated as second class. They can only patrol in black neighborhoods, are not allowed to arrest white suspects, cannot drive squad cars and cannot use the police headquarters, forced to operate out of the basement of a gym. The book chronicles the case of a black woman who turns up fatally beaten after last seen in a car driven by a white man, which deepens the divide in the police department.

The book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster describes the novel as intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice and depicts a world on the cusp of great change involving race relations, city politics, and police corruption.

Darktown, which will be looking for a writer, falls under year-old Pascal Pictures’ first-look deal with Sony TV. Former Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman-turned-producer Pascal recently teamed with fellow former Sony feature exec Elizabeth Cantillon for another period drama series project based on books — Eve Babitz’s memoirs — through Sony TV’s TriStar Television.

The rights to Darktown, which will be published in September, were repped by ICM Partners on behalf of Susan Golomb at Writers House. Foxx is repped by CAA and LBI. Read More







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