Book Review: HEAVEN, MY HOME, an East Texas mystery set against the casual racism emboldened by Trump’s victory

aHeaven, My Home
A Highway 59 Novel

Attica Locke

In the wake of Trump’s election victory, Ranger Darren Matthews travels down Highway 59 to Jefferson, Texas, where nine-year-old Levi King, son of an imprisoned Aryan Brotherhood captain, has gone missing. Strangely, only Levi’s father and sister plead for the boy’s return. Local law enforcement assume he’s dead, his own grandmother, one of the town leaders, remains eerily distant, and Matthews’ boss only wants him to find evidence to implicate his father.

Matthews, though, realizes the local denizens are obfuscating at every turn. An elderly black man, Leroy Page, claims to have seen Levi the night he disappeared, making him the last person to see him. Leroy becomes a suspect, but Matthews doubts his guilt. He’s driven to find out what really happened to Levi, and perhaps escape his mother’s hold having a secret that could bury his career, even if it means making a devil’s bargain. Powerful forces in Jefferson, however, are intent on seeing him fail.

Heaven, My Home is compulsively readable with a compelling and serpentine mystery reaching back to the antebellum era. It brought in just enough Bluebird, Bluebird to both satisfy and whet curiosity. Background to the mystery is the town of Jefferson, a failed port city which capitalizes on its past, hosting ghost tours that visit the sites where white women died but conveniently ignoring the deaths of blacks before and after slavery. The book shows how racism can be so seamlessly institutionalized, those with privilege can see it only if looking, but people of color are subject to large and small aggressions. Furthermore, it hints at the practical and personal consequences of Trump’s victory which we’ve sadly seen play out over the past couple of years. Darren also has to confront his own biases and his tendency to view black men of a certain age as though they are the same as his uncles.

I did overwhelmingly enjoy the book, but something that worked less for me was the introduction of so many characters who weren’t utilized in the story, for example, a group of Matthews’ fellow Rangers who sound interesting but only appeared in a single scene. Likewise, I felt Levi’s sister, Dana, was savvy and observant, while Leroy’s neighbors, the Goodfellows, were important to the plot, but not as developed as I might have preferred.

Complex and flawed, Matthews presents a welcome alternative to the mystery protagonists who are male detectives, overconfident, and undeterred by rules or procedures. His Eastern Texas district, rural, conservative, and often racist, obstructs his ability to successfully navigate his investigations. Even when he is doing the wrong thing, I want events to work out for him. I recommend this series for readers who enjoy mysteries and who want to understand small town racism. I can’t wait for the next installment!

Thanks to NetGalley and Serpentine Books for providing an advanced readers copy in exchange for an honest review.