Audiobook review by Paul Fiander
Written by: Thomas Mullen
Narrated by: Andre Holland
Length: 11 hrs and 46 mins
Publisher: Hachette Audio UK
Why Should I Listen to Darktown?
Although this is principally a crime story Darktown also offers a look at the politics of late 1940’s America. This is rather a warts and all story of racism, brutality and corruption. At the centre are the Atlanta PD and its new division of “Black” Officers.
When the murder of a young lady is looked over by the Police Force at large it becomes something of an obsession for Boggs and Smith, as 2 of the 8 African American Officers they have few friends especially on a case that people want kept quiet. We also follow the idealistic new recruit Rakestraw, fresh from the Army his life has not turned out quite like he imagined especially when he paired with the corrupt aging beat cop Dunlow.
With more than a few twists and turns the crime story is well crafted but the real meat of this story is an examination by Thomas Mullen on the treatment of Africa American Citizens and Officers. It’s tough and uncompromising but most of a deeply unsettling tale that is sure to grip you till its rather surprising ending.
Atlanta, Georgia, has the ability to throw up a myriad of images to most people from Colonial buildings with huge verandas to a modern thriving city. Of course these are the nicer ideas but underneath like every city there is a history of violence within its population that many try to keep under wraps. Although Darktown is a Fiction title the treatment it portrays to the African American citizenship of the city is brutal as it is mostly based on the facts of the time the book is set.
Our story follows a single case in the main with a few side investigations flittering in and out of the narrative. This however is not a procedural story as we spend a great deal of time with central players in and out of uniform. Again the police story appears almost to be a vehicle so our author Thomas Mullen can take a look at the social interactions of the late 1940’s America. It is here where the book excels as you are given into the psyche of Officers on both sides of the racial divide. The reflections can be powerful at times and not for the faint of heart.
Our main points of view come from three Officers Boggs, Smith and Rakestraw. All three are officers within the Atlanta PD but the first two are part of an 8 man African American squad created to police the area known as Darktown. This prejudicial name points to the colour of the inhabitants of the area showing the first glimpse of prejudice on the very cover of the book. Our third officer is White and in a Police department filled with scum he seems like an actually nice character as he struggles to live with a life spent in tow of his corrupt partner Dunlow. They are thrown together when a routine traffic accident (a drunk hitting a lamppost) shines a spotlight on the police cover up of a young girl. The girl in question is black and in the car with an older and larger white. The fact she is sporting a black raises some alarms but this is a white man being confronted by two officers and as such they cannot arrest him by themselves. It seems ludicrous but this is the nature of the times a point which is hammered into you from an early stage as the injustices that run through the book continue to grow.
As the tale plays out Boggs and Smith decide to follow up on their investigations and this action shines a light on the police department of Atlanta and the surrounding country as they are thwarted at every turn. It is the way the officer’s deal with their struggles that forms a main focus or the book. We get to hear their objections if only in the form of inner monologue as they are acutely aware of their limitations within the forces of “Law and Order”. Then there is the racism they are subjected to. This is not only from the civilian population but also from other white officers within the department. This is not covert or casual in any way instead the open hostility is eye opening at every turn.Throughout Mullen does a great job showing various social inequalities throughout the Atlanta population. This includes the race divide but also the class divide comes into focus at more than one point. It’s an interesting facet and creates an even more complex structure that our pioneering Officers have to tip toe through.
The narration by Andre Holland helps to paint the atmospheric picture so wonderfully crafted by Mullen. His accents hit the spot without being too stereotypical helping to flesh out the believable characters that form such an integral part of the narrative. At almost twelve this is a book that gives true value however I’m sure with its difficult subject matter some would prefer it o e a lot shorter.
Gritty, revealing and most of all gripping are just some of the terms I could use to describe Darktown but most of all I just think it is a great piece reflecting on the Social History of America and well worth picking up.
Review copy and Cover Image courtesy of Publisher
Listened to using Audiobooks.com
Listened to using Audiobooks.com