Lightning Men is the second in Thomas Mullen’s Darktown historical mystery series imagining what it may have been like for Atlanta’s first Black police officers. Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are partners policing Darktown, a difficult task when corrupt White police officers are partnering with drug traffickers. Hated by their fellow officers, many of whom are members of the Klan, they walk a very careful line to protect their community.
Denny Rakestraw is a White officer who refuses to join the Klan. His neighborhood is “transitioning” and the Klan, including his brother-in-law and a “neighborhood association” are both trying to stop it. His brother is a fool and gets himself entangled in a fine mess and Rakestraw risks far too much to save him.
Housing is an arena where racism has been intractable. To this day, de facto housing segregation afflicts American cities. When Black people move into a neighborhood, White people move out. When White people move into Black neighborhoods, civic investment follows and suddenly Black people can no longer afford to live there. It is no surprise that housing segregation makes a powerful environment for violence and conflict.
I enjoyed Lightning Men a lot. I cared about the characters. They are imperfect, flawed people with depth and authenticity. Sometimes their desire to do good is deflected by personal needs and conflicts of interest. They can be impatient and make mistakes which makes them far more interesting than those who always do right.
Mullen succeeds in creating the time and place of post World War II Atlanta, the socio-political forces, the fears and aspirations of the people seem real. I have criticized authors for gratuitous use of racist epithets. Here is a book focusing on Jim Crow Atlanta, on Klansmen and a world of blatant, state-sanctioned white supremacy and of course, there are racist epithets, but when they are used, they are part of the story. There is a sense that Mullen interrogated himself before using epithets, asking himself if it is really necessary, not used to shock or show how transgressive he can be.
This is my first book in this series. I will be reading Darktown, the first, as soon as I can get it from the library and I eagerly anticipate the development of this series as it moves forward.
Lightning Men will be released September 12th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.