Thomas Mullen is the author of Darktown, a novel set in Atlanta shortly after World War II, in a time when black police officers were first allowed to work in the Atlanta Police Department.
Darktown succeeds on multiple levels. First, it’s very well written, with gorgeous detail in both setting and characters, without ever going overboard.
It also works as a straight-up crime novel as police officers attempt to unravel the mystery behind the murder of a young woman.
But the most powerful aspect of the novel for me was the immersion into the violently segregated culture of the deep south during this period of history. The oppression and brutalization of black communities is rendered in detail, but what’s also made clear is how difficult it is to change the status quo when ordinary citizens, including law enforcement, fully support the authoritarian culture and are thoroughly trained to crush any dissent. Yes, this novel is a well-timed reminder of what authoritarianism and bigotry mean for a society.
Despite this, Darktown is not a “downer.” It’s a fascinating, well-told tale of courage.
I listened to the audio edition. I really enjoyed the narrator’s voice, finding it both pleasant to listen to and easy to understand, with the drawback that the voices of the different characters tended to sound the same, and at several points I wasn’t sure who was speaking.
In my own writing, I’ve begun using more speech tags – he said / she said – since I started listening to audiobooks. Speech tags aren’t always necessary if you’re reading text. If two characters are in conversation, a paragraph break indicates when a different character is speaking. But a listener can’t see this, so additional speech tags can be necessary for clarity. Something to keep in mind, for those of you who write.