NPR’s Morning Edition this week featured Thomas Mullen’s newest novel, about Atlanta’s first black officers.
Inspired by a 1947 Newsweek article estimating “that one-quarter of Atlanta policemen were, in fact, members of the Ku Klux Klan,” NPR calls Darktown (S&S/Atria/37 INK; S&S Audio; OverDrive Sample) “a blend of history, mystery and violence.”
The new officers faced tough restrains. They operated out of a YMCA for fear they would cause a riot at police headquarters, “they could only patrol the back neighborhoods; they weren’t supposed to set foot in the white parts of town,” Mullen says. “They couldn’t drive squad cars; they had to walk their beat with a partner” and were not allowed to arrest white people.
NPR notes “some of the tensions described in Darktown — like the ability of white police to injure or kill black citizens with impunity without being charged or punished — sound disturbingly familiar.”
Mullen plans this as the first in a series with each book focusing on new officers who replace those that retire “as the story of Atlanta’s racial coming-of-age moves into contemporary times.” The second book is expected in fall 2017.
In a publishing twist, NPR reports that Mullen’s agent “circulated his manuscript without his name or photo attached.” Mullen, who is white, has lived in Atlanta for 15 years. The influential Dawn Davis of Simon & Schuster bought the book for her imprint. She told NPR she found the blind submission forced her “to read it just as a piece of literature … I couldn’t look up what kind of reviews the author got, I couldn’t look up anything about the author. What his previous books were, even — or if it were even a man. I had to just kind of read it, and explore it for what it was.”
It is already heading to the small screen. In what Deadline Hollywood terms “a very competitive situation,” Sony won the rights to the novel for a TV project headed by the high-powered producer Amy Pascal and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx.
The Washington Post review suggests it could transfer well to TV, calling it “gripping,” “unflinching,” “complicated crime fiction that melds an intense plot with fully realized characters.”
The New York Times adds “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.”
Librarians and booksellers agree; it is a September LibraryReads and Indie Next selection.