LIGHTNING MEN picks up two years after the events of DARKTOWN as those left standing continue with their lives in 1950s Atlanta.
Officer Denny “Rake” Rakestraw’s neighborhood – an implied “whites only” neighborhood – is beginning to see the arrival of several black families. A group of residents, including Denny’s wife Cassie, pool their money together in an effort to buy out these new homeowners, however, a separate group has adopted a different approach – post hateful signs showing the SS Nazi insignia. As a WWII veteran who had laid his life on the line attempting to eradicate this ideology, Rake hopes to seek out those responsible for the hateful rhetoric. Complications arise when Rake discovers his brother-in-law Dale is a card carrying member of the KKK and may be involved.
Lucius Boggs and partner Tommy Smith, stumble upon a group of smugglers bringing reefer and moonshine into Darktown. Again handcuffed by the limitations of their employers, the Atlanta Police Department (APD), Boggs and Smith, fearing corrupt white officers may be playing a more aggressive role than before in keeping their “off-the-books” investigation from gaining ground, cannot seem to touch the man they believe responsible. Boggs, recently engaged to Julie, a woman he met through the course of a prior investigation, discovers her ex-boyfriend and father to her child, Jeremiah, has returned from a stint in jail. With Boggs’ father already disapproving of the engagement, how will Boggs juggle the responsibility of his job with the threat of a jealous ex-con waiting in the wings?
I was wondering how Mullen would top the corrupt cops and corrosive racism in Darktown – I guess he just had to keep the asshole cops, throw in the KKK and add another Nazi sympathizing hate group, The Columbians, and you’ve got a veritable bounty of bigotry for our heroes to contend with.
Although they’re few and far between, Mullen has a real knack for writing action scenes. They’re used to great effect and only when characters are seemingly pushed to their breaking point making the scenes particularly explosive and violent. I can’t remember the amount of times I was on the edge of my seat during a shootout or a fistfight/brawl.
I didn’t much care for the love triangle between Boggs, Julie and Jeremiah, but I understood its significance within the larger picture given where it ends up. There’s nothing outright wrong with it, but many of the scenes lacked substance and felt like padding to an already rich plot. Boggs’ partner, Smith, gains a lot of ground in proving to be an integral character moving forward and Rake is a world-class shit-disturber throwing wrenches in as many people’s plans as possible.
With Darktown, and now Lightning Men, Mullen offers stories of adversity in the hard-nosed world of mid-20th century America. While both books contain elements of the mystery and thriller genre, both are more about the struggle to achieve social change in an era of widespread fear and resistance sadly making it a somewhat timely read in 2017.