*I received an arc via the publisher in return for an honest review*
Lightning Men by Thomas Mullen
Lightning Men follows the multi-award-nominated, highly acclaimed crime debut Darktown into a city on the brink of huge and violent change – and full of secrets.
Atlanta, 1950. In a divided city, crime comes home.
White officer Denny Rakestraw joins Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith from Atlanta’s Negro Officer precinct to face the Klan, gangs and family warfare in their rapidly changing city.
Black families – including Smith’s sister and brother-in-law – are moving into Rake’s formerly all-white neighbourhood, leading Rake’s brother-in-law, a proud Klansman, to launch a scheme to ‘save’ their streets. When those efforts leave a man dead, Rake is forced to choose between loyalty to family or the law.
Meanwhile, Boggs has outraged his preacher father by courting a domestic, whose dangerous ex-boyfriend is then 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.
*I am very nervous to post this review, it is my longest and most detailed review yet! Where some may feel this offers up spoilers/too much detail. Believe me, Thomas Mullen writes like a genius, I barely scrape the surface of this AMAZING novel*
I previously read the first in the series, Dark Town and was absolutely blown away by the raw honesty and accuracy of historical fact. I thought this series was brilliantly unique and a little part of history we should all know more about!
Officer Boggs and Officer Smith are back and it is one hell of a great read!
Atlanta, Georgia 1950 sets the scene of the novel. The growing racial tensions and the civil rights movement, create a powerful backdrop for this novel. Officer Boggs and Officer Smith are two of Americas first black police officers. They don’t have the same rights as the white officers and they certainly don’t hold any form of privilege.
But what they do have, is the desire and power to clean up their own community!
Their boss is a white officer named Denny ‘Rake’ Rakeshaw. He is in charge of, as it summarised in the novel ‘Americas negro police unit’. The unit faces many threats from both inside and outside of the law. The face dangerous opposition from the Klan, gangs and criminal warfare. When Rake’s bigoted brother-in-law Dale, a local klansman is linked to a crime scene. Rake must choose between family loyalty and the law? Meanwhile, Boggs is dealing with a personal drama, with his new choice of fiancée. Smith is looking forward to the birth of his new niece/nephew but wary as his sister has chosen to move into the white area of town.
One City, two races and three cops!
The prologue opens with Jeremiah being released from Georgia state prison. With no more than 75 cents in his pocket and no one to collect him. We the reader become aware he is alone in the world! His girlfriend having stopped writing years ago and he is startled by police sirens nearby. He stumbles across a preacher who warns him that if he doesn’t find a place to stay, he can be re-arrested for vagrancy!
The preacher warns he has seen many paroled convicts, re-jailed in shocking time!
“Always know what you’re up against and what you’re dealing with, and how you’ll get out of it if it turns ugly” Sgt McInnes
Boggs and Smith police their territory of Atlanta. Taking out moonshiners and drug dealers. They are determined to clean up the streets and refuse to be bought. Which unfortunately is not the same for the white police officers, who are happy to wade into dark town and take their cut of the drug money. In 1950 Atlanta, black people made up 1/3 of the population but they were crowded into 1/5 of the land. Poverty and inadequate housing at every turn. When you can’t get a job of fair salary, crime pays.
Just 10 black police officers to patrol thousands of souls……
Life for the black officers is far from easy. They aren’t allowed to wear their uniforms to/from work for fear of being killed. They face prejudice at every turn. They are often racially abused by the white police officers. They are not allowed to interact with white civilians and if suspect a white person of a crime, must find the nearest call box, for the white officers. They are not allowed to drink, even when off duty. Whilst the white officers frequently take the law into their own hands. Many are rumoured to be members of the Klan.
The inequality and injustice is fully explored, the white privilege of the 1950s is unveiled.
Boggs and Smith, along with Officers Dewey Edmunds and Champ Jennings continue to police the neighbourhood with conviction, despite the unfair world that surrounds them. When they stumble across a crime in progress and take action. It leaves a dead body, that none of them shot! With Boggs having knocked out a white suspect, safe to say, the officers have opened a can of worms!
What ensues in their conversations offers an insight how they each individually view race?
“You think white ladies don’t drink? You think their shit don’t smell?” “Rich folk don’t break laws?”
Across town, Dale is becoming more and more involved with the Klan. The world of their organisation makes for in-depth writing. The author has clearly researched the Klan and how they operate. Dale having been initiated at just 16yrs old, firmly believes, this is the gang for him. But a man so uneducated and angry, is an easy individual to manipulate.
It isn’t too long for Dale to fine himself at a crime scene either……….
“Kluxers are about more than the colour of skin. We are the moral authority?”
Over a dinner at Bogg’s family residence, we learn more about his fiancée Julie. His preacher father is disgusted at the impending nuptials and warns his son, so marry a ‘nice’ girl. The fact that Julie is a single mother to a young son Sage, has the preacher in the belief she is a fallen woman. This only serves to push Boggs closer to Julie.
But Julie holds some secrets of her own, secrets only she and one other soul know………
There is an introduction of a character called Bartholomew Kressler. Which makes for interesting reading, I am not going to spoil the character for readers. But he is exceptionally unusual, put it that way! He informs Boggs and Smith that he witnessed local loan shark and all round thug Thunder Malley at the scene of a crime.
When Dale urgently calls rake in the middle of the night, in trouble. Having escaped from a crime scene that left one man dead and one man badly beaten. It forces Rake to investigate, to try to keep Dale from being arrested. His motives for this are sketchy, but are fully explored throughout the novel. He uncovers the dead man was a suspect in the beating. A dead Klansman named Walter Irons. The victim of the beating however, is a white banker named Martin Letcher. Letcher not being unknown to the Klan himself, he believes in their values. Why are the Klan attacking their own men? How involved is Letcher? What are the motives for the beating?
Boggs and Smith continue to seek to take out Thunder Malley. They want Malley out of their community and not flushing it with his illicit product. We learn Smith has informants in the community and manages to navigate the criminal underworld in a different way to Boggs. The informant warns them there is a turf war about to erupt. That Quentin ‘Q’ Neale is wading on Malleys territory.
He warns them Q has protection from the white cops.
Something Boggs and Smith, do not!
The novels progresses at an engrossing pace. We learn more about the background of Rake. Invited to join the Klan in 1948, post his service in ww2. Rake refused. We learn of his immigration status, that his mother and father were progressive on race. They themselves being treated appallingly as German refugees in America, due to the war. His previous partners have been members of the Klan and this has always led to heated debate.
Rakes father summarises the Klan “ragtag group of bullies and Neanderthals”.
We also learn more about Smith’s background. His father was lynched in 1919, after ‘daring’ to wear his uniform from his service in the great war. His mother couldn’t cope with the grief and committed suicide. Leaving him an orphan as a child. He was taken in by an aunt and raised as her child, along his sister Hannah. Hannah is now heavily pregnant with her first baby. Her husband Malcolm is a veteran of ww2 and served in the 761st tank battalion, the famed black panthers. Malcolm has struggled to find work, after being demobbed and is currently working as a bouncer at a local club. Having recently moved into a white neighbourhood, they are facing daily threats and intimidation to move out. When a break, with a note attached comes flying through the window they call on Smith to help!
Cassies Rakeshaw, Rake’s wife is of different political thinking than her husband. She fears the local black population and what will become of ‘her’ neighbourhood. When local neighbours Paul and Martha Anne Thames invite her to join their group Collective Association of Hanford Park (CAHP). Their goal being to buy out the black homeowners. What will Rake make of her choices? Why is she so consumed with fear? Will she pay for the choices she makes?
There were moments throughout the book that I just had to put it down and digest the information. Why does a hateful mentality spread like a poison in communities?
When Malcolm is attacked, Smith is summoned to Grady Hospital, the coloured wing. Malcolm has been beaten so badly, he is lucky to be alive. He can’t account for who beat him, but it is known there was more than one assailant and they used a bat. Malcolm is angry and demands justice. He wants to see the white suspects held account for the beating. He quickly learns that this will not be happening anytime soon, when the cops cover it up for fear of a riot.
“Blame the negro for causing trouble, Boggs thought Disturbing the peace”
Rake doesn’t despise the black officers and upon seeing ‘white community only’ flags in his neighbourhood, tears them down. The flags carry a logo and it becomes clear to Rake the Columbians are back in town. Who are the Columbians? What is their connection to the Klan? Is this a turf war also?
Jeremiah returns to the town he knows. He discovers most of his friend are dead or in jail. His family have left for Chicago and blame him for the death of his brother. He only has one person he can call on in the world. Unbeknown to him, this woman has a new life.
One she is not willing to give up on…….
The Columbian/Klan theme is further detailed. I found it profound that it is more often than not (2017 and 1950s) those who have never fought for their country, whom believe right wing ideals and aspire to violence, fear and war to achieve their goals. Having seen recent media reports of a Nazi march in the USA. I did ponder why these men armed to the teeth with rifles, had not enlisted after 9/11.
Thunder Malley is finally apprehended and taken into police custody. However, police custody as a black man in 1950, is no safe place to be. It isn’t long until his body is discovered dead and it stinks of police corruption. All this takes place as Dale is due to meet the grand wizard himself. Overseer of the entire Georgia KKK at their sacred altar. Dale learns that the incident he took part in, was unsanctioned by the grand wizard. Which means dale could pay with his life for the crimes he took part in.
Now Dale fears the KKK, imagine the irony in that………..
As the novel continues we see Hannah receive further rape/death threats. Rake become involved with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations (GBI). A local business owner is also dragged into the case. The white ladies down at the records department continue to ignore Boggs or Smith’s attempts to access files. Which again I figured was ironic given their own status of oppression as 1950s women. The case continues to throw up new characters, such as known racist Sgt Slater.
The past comes back to haunt all the characters and to read it all unfold is gripping.
One thing is for certain it is all going to erupt.
“Which part you find harder, the white cops who hate you for thinking you’re as good as them, or the coloured folk who hate you for ‘acting white’?”.
There are moments of reading this novel that I actually flinched, the spiteful terms or insults were painful to read. But they are accurately portrayed, this is how segregation worked. The knowledge that racist terms were incorporated into everyday language. Such as the use of the term ‘boy’ to a black adult male was done do, to show inferiority. So many phrases and slogans coined, to make the already privileged white person feel even more smug and superior!
Boggs and Smith make for perfect reading and their bond is firmly cemented in this case. This has to be my longest ever review and I shall finish up with saying, 3 simple words. Five star genius!
*Lightning Men is released on 12th September in the UK*
*As this is the second in a series, I have decided to include the cover and synopsis for the first novel also, below*
Dark Town by Thomas Mullen
Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.
On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement.
When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death.
Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .
Soon to be a major TV series from Jamie Foxx and Sony Pictures Television.