LIGHTNING MEN by Thomas Mullen
DARKTOWN by Thomas Mullen was one of last year’s most impressive novels. It concerned two black police officers working in the city of Atlanta in the late 1940’s. Mullen infiltrated this time and place and laid out a story that penetrated our brains with wisdom and understanding. Now he is back with a sequel to DARKTOWN titled LIGHTNING MEN and amazingly it equals the first novel in depth, knowledge and enjoyment. It is certainly one of the best books I have read this year.
The setting for this novel is Atlanta, 1950. Police officers Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith are still patrolling the streets of Darktown, one of the black sections of Atlanta. As black officers they are still not allowed cars, or even to wear their uniforms to work. They must change into them in the basement of the YMCA,
The big event of Atlanta is black families moving into formerly all white sections of the city. These incursions bring out the worst in people, such as the Klan and others of their ilk. Tommy Smith’s sister Hannah and her husband are one of the families making the move. They are not met with open arms, and the hostility grows to such a fever pitch that Smith fears for their lives.
Meanwhile Boggs relationship with Julie, the maid he began seeing in the previous book, is progressing. It has even reached the point where Julie is allowed to attend family meals at Boggs’ parents’ home. Things are not smooth at these events but they are bearable. That is until Jeremiah, the father of Julie’s son Sage, shows up and starts demanding a role in the boy’s life.
Both of these occurrences and a few more place the two black officers in tentative positions. They want to protect their friends and relatives but they don’t have much freedom in how they do their jobs. Their best hopes seem to lie with their white superior officer,Sergeant McInnis, and their fellow police officer Denny Rakestraw. Both of these men, though white, appear to have justice as their main goal.
Mullen is such a precise writer that he makes the reader aware of the hostilities that are rampant, but also manages to give hope to even the most downtrodden victim. He never creates a situation where all the players on one team are perfect, but rather shows good and evil in every situation and every race.
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. The very impact of all that occurs is at your back and forces you to read on till the climactic finish.
You really should read both DARKTOWN and LIGHTNING MEN. They address a time in our past that still reflects on our present. There has been progress but the problems of Atlanta in the 1950’s are still alive and well in our country in one form or another. Mullen gives us a chance to be entertained while we are being informed. That is a rare balance that takes expert writing skills. He definitely has them.
LIGHTNING MEN is published by Atria. It contains 384 pages and sells for $26.00.
Jackie K Cooper