Best new crime fiction: Thomas Mullen’s Atlanta-set crime series is inspired

The finest historical fiction tells us as much about the era in which it is written as it does about the time in which it’s set

Two black police officers with African-American jazz musician and actor Lionel Hampton in 1957. Photograph:  Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

Two black police officers with African-American jazz musician and actor Lionel Hampton in 1957. Photograph: Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)

It is a commonplace to say that the finest historical fiction tells us as much about the era in which it is written as it does about the time in which it’s set; the essential questions a writer must ask before setting pen to paper – why these characters, why this place and time? – play a crucial role in determining whether a period novel will be an inert exercise in nostalgia or a resonant work of the engaged imagination.

From the opening pages of 2016’s Darktown, the opening instalment in Thomas Mullen’s inspired Atlanta, Georgia-set crime series about the first all black unit to police the city, it was clear that these books’ considerable force would lie in their ability to function as realistic historical mysteries while urgently addressing issues around contemporary racial violence. The central event in Midnight Atlanta (Little, Brown, £19.99) is the murder of Arthur Bishop, the editor of the city’s leading black newspaper.

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