It’s the fall of 2016 and Darren Mathews feels like a seismic change has happened. The African-American Texas Ranger isn’t just bracing for whatever changes will be coming to law enforcement following the election, but his personal life is equally posed on the brink of change. After the events of Bluebird, Bluebird, Attica Locke’s first book in the Highway 59 series, Mathews thought he had reached a precarious sense of peace. His marriage to lawyer Lisa has found some stability; he still has his Ranger badge, and the DA who had been sniffing around about the murder of a bigot last seen near one of Darren’s lifelong friends has been kept at bay. The wild card remains Darren’s mother Bell, a woman who knows too much and shows maternal concern for her son with continued blackmail to ensure her silence. Still, Darren feels that he has some room to breathe and possibly repair the damage done to his relationships after the fallout from his previous case.
Darren is summoned from Houston to tiny Jefferson, Texas, to investigate the disappearance of a nine-year old boy. But it’s no ordinary boy who’s lost—Levi King is the son of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas’ leaders, a man who had headed one of the most dangerous terrorist organizations in the state. The boy disappeared on the edges of Caddo Lake, a vast stretch of bayou sprawling across the Texas/Louisiana border that doesn’t give up its secrets. When Darren arrives in Jefferson he finds that most people are more concerned with maintaining the glory of the town’s antebellum past than finding the boy. His wealthy connected grandmother calls her lawyer on hand every time she spots Darren, a smarmy real estate developer has connections that don’t appear as innocent as he claims, an out-of-town lawyer tied with a local land transfer hasn’t been seen in several days and the virulently racist squatters among King’s circle are more interested in protecting their own suspect interests than finding the boy. About the only people who care are a cluster of residents descended from freed slaves and the Caddo people, clinging to the land they call Hopetown that had been theirs for generations. They were the last to claim to have seen the boy and evidence found on the site suggests he might never have left their company. Although Darren sympathizes with them as they endure presence of the racists on their land, he fears that the residents of Hopetown have been caught up in something bigger than Levi King, something that may finally end the small community that has survived so much.
Locke isn’t one to spare her characters much, and if she put Ranger Mathews through a difficult time in Bluebird, Bluebird, she doesn’t spare him any quarter in this case. Bluebird won Locke an Edgar Award for best novel, and Heaven, My Home is an even stronger book. As a traditional mystery, it may disappoint—mystery readers may chafe at some dangling threads and investigative missteps. But real life crimes sometimes defy neatly knotted conclusions, and Locke has the sense that justice, particularly in East Texas, is relative. The Highway 59 novels are really better classified as noir, and it’s the portrayal of its central character and the landscape he navigates that the Highway 59 novels really rise above other crime novels. The pervading current in Heaven, My Home is the message that the past is never entirely past, and that sometimes what we call progress is just a veneer for a far uglier structure underneath. And in Trump-era East Texas, that veneer is very thin indeed. Locke makes clear that Ranger Mathews’ trials are far from over. Start the series with Bluebird, Bluebird, and hope that Locke has more Highway 59 novels coming soon.