Darktown

A Novel

(Book #1 of The Darktown Series)
LIST PRICE $12.99
About The Book

“One incendiary image ignites the next in this highly combustible procedural…written with a ferocious passion that’ll knock the wind out of you.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Fine Southern storytelling meets hard-boiled crime in a tale that connects an overlooked chapter of history to our own continuing struggles with race today.” —Charles Frazier, bestselling author of Cold Mountain

“This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In the way the story is told coupled with its heightened racial context, Darktown reminded me of Walter Mosley or a George Pelecanos novel.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“High-quality…crime fiction with a nimble sense of history…quick on its feet and vividly drawn.” —Dallas Morning News

“Some books educate, some books entertain, Thomas Mullen’s Darktown is the rare book that does both.” —Huffington Post

Award-winning author Thomas Mullen is a “wonderful architect of intersecting plotlines and unexpected answers”(The Washington Post) in this timely and provocative mystery and brilliant exploration of race, law enforcement, and justice in 1940s Atlanta.

Responding to orders from on high, the Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire its first black officers, including war veterans Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers; they aren’t allowed to arrest white suspects, drive squad cars, or set foot in the police headquarters.

When a woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up dead, Boggs and Smith suspect white cops are behind it. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood as his own, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Among shady moonshiners, duplicitous madams, crooked lawmen, and the constant restrictions of Jim Crow, Boggs and Smith will risk their new jobs, and their lives, while navigating a dangerous world—a world on the cusp of great change.

A vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Darktown includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

The award-winning author of The Last Town on Earth delivers a riveting and elegant police procedural set in 1948 Atlanta, exploring a murder, corrupt police, and strained race relations that feels ripped from today's headlines.

Responding to orders from on high, the Atlanta Police Department is forced to hire its first black officers, including war veterans Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith. The newly minted policemen are met with deep hostility by their white peers; they aren’t allowed to arrest white suspects, drive squad cars, or set foot in the police headquarters.

When a black woman who was last seen in a car driven by a white man turns up dead, Boggs and Smith suspect white cops are behind it. Their investigation sets them up against a brutal cop, Dunlow, who has long run the neighborhood as his own, and his partner, Rakestraw, a young progressive who may or may not be willing to make allies across color lines. Among shady moonshiners, duplicitous madams, crooked lawmen, and the constant restrictions of Jim Crow, Boggs and Smith will risk their new jobs, and their lives, while navigating a dangerous world—a world on the cusp of great change.

Set in the postwar, pre-civil rights South, and evoking the socially resonant and morally complex crime novels of Dennis Lehane and Walter Mosley, Darktown is a vivid, smart, intricately plotted crime saga that explores the timely issues of race, law enforcement, and the uneven scales of justice.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Although Darktown is set in 1948, many reviewers have praised it for being more relevant than ever. Why do you think readers are finding Darktown so timely? Did you? Which scenes resonated with you?

2. BOLO Books commended Darktown for being an example of “how crime fiction can elucidate the topic [of race] with pinpoint accuracy,” stating, “this novel should be required reading for both police forces nationwide and the citizens they seek to protect.” Discuss this statement. What might both police and the communities they are policing learn from Darktown? Was there anything you found particularly surprising about the way that the police interacted with the citizens of Atlanta in Darktown? If so, what?

3. Explain the significance of the title of the book. Why do you think Mullen used it? Did your interpretation of the title change as you read? How?

4. What were your initial impressions of Denny Rakestraw? When first introduced, Mullen writes, “Officer Denny Rakestraw was dividing himself in two again” (page 9). Discuss this statement. Why is Rakestraw conflicted in his role? Compare his style of policing with that of his partner, Lionel Dunlow. Which method do you think is more effective?

5. Boggs and Smith are from different worlds. How does this influence their partnership? Do their different backgrounds affect the way they approach their duties as officers? In what ways?

6. After Tommy Smith’s dispute with Zo at Ruffin’s Royal Hideaway, the owner of the bar grips his arm and says, “There is a lot riding on you, son. And I expect you to bear that in mind day and night” (page 157). How do you feel the pressure from their community of having to be “perfect” benefitted the eight black officers? How did it negatively impact them? How do you feel Boggs and Smith lived up to the task?

7. After James James Jameson’s funeral service, members of the community are furious with Boggs, saying, “I thought you were supposed to do something about this” (page 85). How well do you feel Boggs and Smith balanced the needs of their community with the obligations of their job? What, if anything, would you have done differently?

8. On page 216, Uncle Percy says to Boggs, “The evil is so garishly on display here, there’s no mystery to it. It is sunning itself before us, and will strike if you dare approach it.” When Boggs claims he has built immunity to it, Percy says, “You need to bleed those antibodies from your veins, Lucius. Understand me? Bleed them from your veins.” What do you feel Percy meant by this statement? (Consider page 324, when Boggs later thinks, “But maybe he was wrong, and Uncle Percy was right. Maybe he was allowing himself to be fooled here . . .”) Do you agree with Uncle Percy? Why or why not?

9. On page 184, when Mama Dove is questioned by Officer Rakestraw about Lily’s death, she says, “The only thing I am fazed by right now is the fact that a cop is here bothering about her. Why? What was so special about this girl?” Consider this statement. How do you feel Mama Dove’s surprise is indicative of the role women are expected to play in this society, if at all? How does each female character—such as Mama Dove, Julie Cannon, and Mrs. Prescott—fulfill and/or reject this role?

10. Boggs struggles greatly with the death of Lily’s father, Otis Ellsworth, saying, “Every time he’d tried to help that family, he cursed it” (page 292). Do you agree? How would you have handled the case differently?

11. After Boggs’s final encounter with Dunlow (page 340), he provides Roland Dooley with two choices: keep silent or turn Boggs in to the police. Consider the consequences of each option for Dooley. How might either option positively or negatively impact society as a whole? If you were in his shoes, what would you have done?

12. In praising Darktown, author Attica Locke said, “There is nothing I love more in a book than hope.” Did you find causes for hope in Darktown? What were they?

13. Pundits often comment on how today’s politics are more polarized and partisan than ever. But as Darktown shows, people have always been fiercely divided—even in years, like 1948, that don’t show up in many history books. Did any of the various conflicts in the book—between white and black, police and civilian, wealthy and working class, urban and rural—cause you to think differently about some of the debates in our time?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Darktown has been optioned for a television series. Who would you cast in the lead roles? Why? Which scenes in Darktown did you find particularly cinematic? Discuss them with your book club.

2. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly praised Darktown, saying, “This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy.” Read one of James Ellroy’s novels with your book club and compare and contrast the novels.

3. To learn more about Thomas Mullen and his other books, read reviews of his works, and find him on tour, visit his official site at ThomasMullen.net.
About The Author
Photograph by Jeff Roffman

Thomas Mullen is the author of The Lightning Men, Darktown, and The Last Town on Earth, which was named Best Debut Novel of 2006 by USA TODAY. He was also awarded the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for excellence in historical fiction for The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers and The Revisionists. His works have been named to Year’s Best lists by The Chicago Tribune and USA TODAY, among others. His stories and essays have been published in Grantland, Paste, and the Huffington Post, and his Atlanta Magazine true crime story about a novelist/con man won the City and Regional Magazine Award for Best Feature. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and sons.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 2016)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501133886

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Raves and Reviews

"A brilliant blending of crime, mystery, and American history (Atlanta, just after WWII). Terrific entertainment."

– Stephen King

"One incendiary image ignites the next in this highly combustible procedural, set in the city’s rigidly segregated black neighborhoods during the pre-civil-rights era and written with a ferocious passion that’ll knock the wind out of you."

– New York Times Book Review

"Mullen is a wonderful architect of intersecting plotlines and unexpected answers. But you also want justice, which you know neither Mullen nor our own time can provide...Compelling works of fiction such as Mullen’s walk a fine line between art that reminds us of horrors past and art that trades on them with pieces too unfinished to play with."

– Washington Post

As his previous historical novels have proven, Mullen is skilled at bringing the past to life, both socially and visually… fans of well-written literary thrillers will want this expert example.

– Library Journal

From the very first page of Darktown, I was stunned, mesmerized, and instantly a huge fan of Tom Mullen. Beyond the history and the thrilling mystery, the book’s soul lies in the burgeoning partnership (and dare I say friendship) at the center of the book. It’s a reminder of the ties that cut across race in America. There is nothing I love more in a book than hope.

– Attica Locke, author of Pleasantville

Fine Southern storytelling meets hard-boiledcrime in a tale that connects an overlooked chapter of history to our owncontinuing struggles with race today.

– Charles Frazier, author of Cold Mountain

Mullen uses the lens of a twisted murder mystery to unsettle readers with his unflinching looks at racism in post-WWII Atlanta… This page-turner reads like the best of James Ellroy.

– Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)

“Mullen succeeds in delivering a narrative heartbreakingly irresistible” 

– Shelf Awareness, Starred Review

Mullen’s writing is extremely evocative in bringing the pre–civil rights South to life.

– Booklist (Starred Review)

“Gripping…. A complicated crime fiction that melds an intense plot with fully realized characters… Mullen's unflinching description[s] add to the realism and relevance of  Darktown.

– Associated Press

"[An] absorbing new mystery, reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow in a genre mood."

– USA Today

“This a particularly satisfying read.”

– Kirkus Reviews 10 Favorite Crime Noves of the Year

"In the way the story is told coupled with its heightened racial context, “Darktown” reminded me of a Walter Mosley or a George Pelecanos novel."

– Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Tenebrous and super-cinematic…and in no small sense reminiscent of 1997’s L.A. Confidential.” 

– Seattle Review of Books

"In a year when the literary community has seen some stellar releases examining the issue of race in unique ways – books like Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters, Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad – Darktown stands beside Revolver by Duane Swierczynski as examples of how crime fiction can elucidate the topic with pinpoint accuracy. This novel should be required reading for both police forces nationwide and the citizens they seek to protect."

– BOLO Books

Darktown is a compelling well-crafted read, and a reminder of how far we have come as a nation from a time when race defined success and opportunity. Or have we?”

– New York Journal of Books

“This is high-quality historical crime fiction with a nimble sense of history and well-researched details, quick on its feet and vividly drawn.” 

– Dallas Morning News

“It is no surprise the much anticipated DARKTOWN is more than just a fictional crime thriller- infused with historical details and timely controversial subjects.” 

– JDC Must Read Books, 5 Star Review

“Some books educate, some books entertain, Thomas Mullen’s DARKTOWN is the rare book that does both…a novel that holds up a mirror to the vestiges of discrimination that remain alive and well today.”

– Huffington Post

“Lovers of Harry Bosch, Dave Robicheaux and Easy Rawlins should delight in ‘Darktown’ and its new detective team.” 

– Bookfilter

“This is such a moving piece of fictionalized American history...I was completely invested in this story and I highly recommend people pick this up.”

– Kissin' Blue Karen

"Hitting the page like the second coming of Ellroy, Mullen delivers a timely and tense story set in Atlanta in the days immediately following World War II...a throroughly modern, compelling thriller that resonates and crackles with dark energy." 

– B&N Reads, September's Best New Thrillers

“An addictive novel…reminiscent of Dennis Lehane novels.”

– The Missourian

“Mullen’s epic novel works both as a fast-paced, hard-boiled thriller with the sweep of L.A. Confidential and as a vivid depiction of systemic police racism and corruption, all the while alive to the complexities and subtleties surrounding class, religion and sex within the black community. In this age of Black Lives Matter, a historical crime novel might well be the most topical book of the season.”

– Irish Times

"Novelist Mullen’s research is impeccable…This novel is highly recommended for those who like a good police procedural and for those interested in the African-American struggle to cross over the thin blue line of policing."

– Historical Novel Society

"Mullen’s attention to historical detail and living, breathing narrative draws readers into an engaging crime story."

– Creative Loafing Atlanta

“At times, the day-to-day experience of blacks and whites living in the Jim Crow south seen through this fictional lens seems like bulletins from a distant past, something long gone and half-forgotten, shocking in its strangeness. At other times it reads like tomorrow's headlines.” 

– Reviewing the Evidence

“Darktown is a powerful book. When you’ve read it, it will reverberate in your thoughts continuously.” 

– Spare Change News

“The plot has the hallmarks of a classic noir mystery, making the novel an enjoyable read both for mystery fans and for readers who want to get a better sense of life in the segregated south shortly after World War II.”

– Tzer Island

“Darktown is a thrilling, fast-paced crime novel, but the complex questions it raises will haunt readers long after the final page,” 

– The Toledo Blade

Awards and Honors
  • "25 Books All Georgians Should Read" Selection
Resources and Downloads

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More books from this author: Thomas Mullen

More books in this series: The Darktown Series