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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

Lightning Men

Lightning Men

Darktown #2

ISBN: 9781501138799

Publisher: Atria

Publication Date: 9/12/2017

Format: Hardcover

My Rating: 5 Stars + Top Books of 2017 “[Writes] with a ferocious passion that’ll knock the wind out of you.” —New York Times Reads like the best of James Ellroy.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Mullen is a wonderful architect of intersecting plotlines and unexpected answers.” —Washington Post

From the acclaimed author of The Last Town on Earth comes the gripping follow-up to Darktown, a “combustible procedural that will knock the wind out of you” (New York Times).

Officer Denny Rakestraw, “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith, and Sergeant McInnis have their hands full in an overcrowded and rapidly changing Atlanta. It’s 1950 and color lines are shifting and racial tensions are simmering. Black families—including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law—are moving into Rake’s formerly all-white neighborhood, leading some residents to raise money to buy them out, while others advocate a more violent solution.

Rake’s brother-in-law, Dale, a proud Klansman, launches a scheme to rally his fellow Kluxers to save their neighborhood. When those efforts spiral out of control and leave a man dead, Rake is forced to choose between loyalty to family or the law.

He isn’t the only one with family troubles. Boggs has outraged his preacher father by courting a domestic, and now her ex-boyfriend has been released from prison. As Boggs, Smith, and their all-black precinct contend with violent drug dealers fighting for turf in new territory, their personal dramas draw them closer to the fires that threaten to consume Atlanta once again.

With echoes of James Ellroy and Denis Lehane, Mullen demonstrates in Lightning Men why he’s celebrated for writing crime fiction “with a nimble sense of history...quick on its feet and vividly drawn" (Dallas Morning News).

My Review

From the acclaimed author, Thomas Mullen who introduced readers to the hit, Darktown landing on my Top Books of 2016 —racial integration of Atlanta’s police department in 1948 — with an explosive multi-layered complex follow up: LIGHTNING MEN.

Racial violence and corruption continue in 1950’s Atlanta, with African-American police officers, Boggs and Smith.

As they say in the South, these two find themselves in a "heap of trouble.” (Among others).

“Hot Atlanta” is not just sizzling. It is blistering. Fiery. Tensions and emotions run high. Loyalties are tested between family and law. Color lines are threatened. Moral lines are blurred.

The second in the Darktown series, Mullen uses his hard-boiled crime, cop procedural, to explore post-WWII racism in the South.

The highly anticipated character-driven LIGHTNING MEN is much more than just a crime fictional thriller. It is infused with critical historical details and timely controversial subjects we face today.

“Any candid observer of American racial history must acknowledge that racism is highly adaptable.” – Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow

Highly-charged, Mullen turns up the intensity with characters facing moral, family, social issues and compromises.

Tensions rise. From racial prejudice, moonshining, drugs, greed, conspiracy, Klansmen, fascist Columbians, white supremacist, corruption, bigotry, violence, Jim Crow laws, preachers, shootouts, paybacks, fear, power, and segregated neighborhoods.

In Darktown, we met rookies: Officer Lucius Boggs and his partner, Tommy Smith.

From different backgrounds, their office was housed in the basement of the Negro YMCA, a makeshift precinct. They were not even allowed to arrest white men, nor allowed to drive a squad car. They could not patrol outside of the Negro neighborhoods that constituted their beat. No respect and little support.

Only ten black officers patrolled those thousands of souls. A third of Atlanta were black, yet they were crowded into only a fifth of the land.

Boggs and Smith had not taken bribes; however, with two years on the force, it appeared half of the white officers took bribes, so how long would the Negro officers resist?

They were tiring of their powerlessness. The son of a preacher, Boggs was all too familiar with the fallibility of men, even men with power.

Denny Rakestraw (white) is distrusted by his fellow officers for his suspected role in the disappearance of his former partner, Lionel Dunlow.

Rakestraw is not a racist but finds it difficult to fit in with his fellow white cops and work with the ten black cops. Neither side, fully trusts him.

Denny’s problems increase when his Klansman brother-in-law, Dale Simpkins, gets involved in a plot to stop the influx of African-Americans into his neighborhood, Hanford Park.

Some cops are part of the Klan. Will they accuse one of the richest men in Atlanta of selling moonshine and marijuana?

Boggs had come to respect McInnis over the last two years. He had stuck up for his charges during a few disputes with white officers. How far can he go to protect them?

Boggs (preacher’s son) is dating Julie with a young son, Sage. Soon to be married. His family opposes the relationship since she is not of their social status. She has a secret past. She is intimidated by their prestigious family.

When a black man, Jeremiah is released from prison after five years, things get personal. Boggs life gets complicated when he learns the connection.

Two years earlier, Boggs came close to resigning his position and had second thoughts after a near-death experience. Now, he is unsure again.

Too many mistakes that weighed heavily on his soul. He is sure there would be more guilt and an awkward relationship with his partner. Can he remain as a cop?

Events will lead each character to major soul-searching. Smith had crossed another line as well. He was afraid.

. . . The Armor. The façade victims’ families typically wore when they needed to protect themselves or the memory of their loved ones. Folks who wore The Armor sometimes had secrets to hide. The Armor was firmly in place as they parried the officer’s attempts to learn more about the deceased. They wore The Armor to keep the cops from learning things. The secrets. . .

The Armor was worn by the innocent, who had nothing to hide but their dignity, and they were so deeply offended to be questioned by these employees of the corrupt City of Atlanta, these paid enforcers of Jim Crow, that they refused to play along. They may be innocent, hurt, or protective.

. . . “And lines are only ideas people dream up, to govern what should be possible, to keep you from moving toward the forbidden.”

Three policemen struggle. Each has an agenda and react in different ways to protect. Loyalties are tested. Family versus law.

Can they continue to work with one hand tied behind their packs without the proper support to do their jobs? Will the latest emotional events, their actions, and tensions make them second guess their current careers? Will they continue to serve and make Atlanta a better city, or is it a useless effort?

After violence and a shootout, will Hanford Park be transformed? Will the lines between white and black be blurred after the postwar crowding, pushing blacks into areas formerly considered whites-only?

From racial politics and struggles of history, Mullen does not miss a beat!

The complex emotions of each character are portrayed in depth, making the characters jump off the page. Others threaten lives. Others protect. Struggles both interior and exterior.

Complications. Affairs interrupted. Old scores settled. Blood feuds magnified. Pride. Costs were high. Greed.

Hard-boiled. Explosive. Riveting. Timely!

Love this enthralling series and looking forward to seeing what is in store next for Smith and Boggs.

When reading of Boggs at his dad’s house for dinner with Julie, reminds me strongly of Greenleaf (a favorite show) and their preacher/family dinners. Heaven forbid, their children do not follow their well-laid controlled plans.

Movie-worthy! For those who enjoy good crime fiction, and historical fiction as Mullen meticulously traces the civil rights movement through his well-written crime stories and cop procedurals, that involve "real" characters you come to care about.

Fans of TV mini-series: Underground, Greenleaf and Queen Sugar will enjoy this intense series as well as Michael Connley’s Harry Bosch and Greg Iles' Penn Cage series.

In addition to the early digital reading copy (thank you) provided by NetGalley and Atria, I also purchased the audiobook, narrated by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II – for an award-winning performance. Just finished.

Move this series to the top of your list. If you reside in the South, this is a “must read.” Especially for those of us who found (find) Atlanta our home for many years. Another winner!

Review Links:


“Thunderously good. There is a pace to this story, a beating pulse that drives it forward with every word and every page. Once you start this story there is no turning back.” (Huffington Post)

"Mullen unfolds his multifaceted plot with a sure hands and lively characterization. Lightning Men is far from predictable and rich with sociological and emotional detail." (The Wall Street Journal)

"Black vs. white doesn't begin to cover the complexity of the diverse relationships in this sharply observed novel." (New York Times Book Review)

"Mullen expands the boundaries of crime fiction, weaving in eye-opening details drawn from our checkered history." (Chicago Tribune)

"Morally complex and boasting more finely drawn characters, this outstanding follow-up to Darktown deepens Mullen's portrait of pre-civil rights America and deserves a place on every suspense reader's list." (Library Journal)

“Mullen again brilliantly combines a suspenseful plot with a searing look at a racist south,” (Publishers Weekly)

Tense and heated suspense envelop Thomas Mullen's second in his Darktown series. Lightning Men is a lit fuse about to go off at any time. (Mystery Scene Magazine)

"a keen reminder that American racism has a long, ugly, hateful tradition and that we still have a lot of work to do rooting it out and destroying it." (A Bookish Type)

"strikes a frighteningly current note," (Literary Hub (

“Certain books have the ability to crawl deep inside of a reader, to force one to live in that place amongst the author's vibrant characters, and occasionally to even inhabit one's dreams. Lightening Men is one of those novels - do not miss reading this book, trust me.” (LAURIE'S LIT PICKS)

“For readers who loved the first installment in Thomas Mullen’s critically acclaimed Darktown series, September 12 is your lucky day. The second installment, Lightning Men, is here.” (Bookish)

"Mullen does a masterful job layering emotional turmoil." (Atlanta Journal Constitution)

"The story was ever moving and kept me on my toes. I was rarely bored."


"Not only is this story a good one, but it is highly recommended!' (Char's Horror Corner)

"Hard-boiled. Explosive. Riveting. Timely! " (JUDITH COLLINS BLOG)

"This is an impressive series." (THE BOWED BOOKSHELF)

"The world Mullen so carefully creates in these pages will be familiar the readers of Jim Thompson, P.D. James and, especially James Ellroy, a world full of compromises for where there's nevertheless a wide, almost evangelical divide between good and evil. Lightning Men is even more engrossing but it's terrific predecessor." (Open Letters)

Best Crime Novels of 2017 (New York Times Book Review)

"Lightning Men [is] even better than Darktown, which is saying something." (Sarah Weinman The Crime Lady)

City on the verge of a race riot in ‘Darktown’ sequel

Thomas Mullen’s new novel examines brotherly hate

By Tray Butler - For the AJC



By: Thomas Mullen ISBN: 9781501133862 Publisher: Atria Books Publication Date: 9/13/2016 Format: Hardcover My Rating: 5 Stars +++

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. Read My Review

About the Author

Thomas Mullen lives a deceptively quiet life not far from downtown Atlanta. While S.U.V.s drive by and dogs bark and the locals suspect not a thing, he commits murders, spins wildly convoluted conspiracy theories, travels through time, reinvents the past, resurrects the dead, falls in love with women of his own invention, imperils young children, unleashes plagues, wages war, saves lives, dangles participles, and invents new metaphors. Most of his sentences contain verbs.

Or, if you're looking for a more official-sounding bio, try this:

Thomas Mullen is the author of Darktown, an NPR Best Book of the Year and a nominee for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize; The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA Today and was awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction; The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers; and The Revisionists. His next novel, Lightning Men, which follows the characters from Darktown two years later, will be published in September 2017.

His works have been named to Year’s Best lists by The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kirkus Reviews, The Onion’s A/V Club, The San Diego Union-Times, Paste Magazine, The Cleveland Plain-Dealer, and Amazon. His stories and essays have been published in Grantland, Paste, The Huffington Post, and Atlanta Magazine. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons.

And because he is also the person writing this, he's now going to switch to first-person narration:

Hi! Thanks for visiting my site. I love my job, and my readers. Seriously, thank you so much. Read More






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