Review: Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Darktown by Thomas Mullen is quite literally like no other book I’ve read before – it’s no wonder it’s going to be a TV series. Mullen’s created a world where his black characters walk the walk, whisper the talk and wear the uniform but he’s given them zero authority…so what are they to do?


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.


What I say:

Boggs and Smith witness a car crashing into a lamppost – the driver’s white and the passenger isn’t, which is more than out of the ordinary. As they get closer, they quickly realise something’s wrong. The passenger then runs for their life and they have to make a decision whether to follow the runaway or deal with the driver. And then the runaway is found dead among trash.

From the start of this novel, I could feel an uncomfortable shift among society beginning to emerge, one that creates tension and unrest for the vast majority of characters who want things to remain as they once were: white. Despite initially feeling extremely uncomfortable by the repression, racial tension, racist language and, well, subject matter, I honestly enjoyed every single minute of Darktown.

The plot, with all of its blockers, frustrations, conflicts and morally ambiguous tendencies is extremely enjoyable. This isn’t the fastest paced novel I’ve read but that’s what really works. It’s set in 1948 so it’s less rushed and more thorough in its storytelling and investigations. I never tired of reading this novel and empathised greatly with some of the choices several characters had to make for their own peace of mind.

There’s a constant power play in this novel where good and evil come head-to-head. You’re never really certain as to whether they’ll ever find the truth, whether they really want to find it or if it’s simply about taking a stand and showing the white officers and members of the public that the people of ‘Darktown’ won’t be moved or intimidated any longer.

If you’re looking a deeply moving and thought-provoking read that’s eloquently written with a deep Southern twang, this is definitely for you. To be honest, even if you just want to read for reading’s sake, you need to read Darktown. There’s one thing I know for certain, Darktown will never leave me.

Thanks to Grace Vincent from Little, Brown for sending me this deeply moving book.

Where to buy:

Grab your copy of Darktown from Amazon UK | Amazon US | Foyles | Waterstones

Stalk him:

Check out Thomas Mullen’s website for all the latest happenings on his work, or follow him on Twitter @mullenwrites.


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