Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke | Crime Fiction | Serpent’s Tail | 304 pages | Review by Jenn Augustine
Heaven, My Home is Attica Locke’s engaging follow up to the award-winning first installment of her Highway 59 series, Bluebird, Bluebird. In Heaven, My Home, we meet Darren Mathews in December 2016, a few months after the events of Bluebird, Bluebird, and closely following the charged 2016 US presidential election. Darren is a Texas Ranger, an elite law enforcement agency with the ability to investigate crimes anywhere in the state of Texas. Darren is assigned to work on cases related to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT), a violent white supremacist terrorist organization. In Marion County, Texas, Levi King, a nine-year-old boy, goes missing. He is the son of Bill “Bill Kill” King, an incarcerated ABT captain. Darren is tasked with assisting in investigating the lost boy to get more information on the ABT. The reader joins Darren as he attempts to find Levi and obtain evidence on the ABT, all while navigating the atmosphere of the present-day United States, the ramifications of history, and his own personal familial and marital issues.
The 2016 US Presidential Election
Heaven, My Home takes place in the wake of the fraught 2016 US presidential election. While being a Black man in the US American South has forced Darren to experience anti-Black racism first-hand, the election has emboldened white supremacists. It has resulted in an increase in hate crimes across the state. The Texas Rangers are worried about the seriousness in which the new President and his administration will take hate crimes and feel pressure to get indictments against ABT members before the new administration takes office. Darren is instructed with finding whatever information he can about the ABT under the guise of assisting in finding Levi King so that a trial can commence before the inauguration in January.
As Darren works the case, he is consistently subjected to racism, both covert and overt. He finds he is no longer receiving the protection or respect he is usually afforded due to being a Texas Ranger. If the reader forgets when and where the story takes place, they are reminded by Darren’s casual observations of a red cap or a ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ flag, which will reorient them to time and place.
History and the Present Day
In the novel, Locke forces the reader to reckon with the United States’ racist history and acknowledge its impact on the present day, both societally and personally. Levi goes missing near his home in Hopetown, a small, desolate area of Marion County. The land that makes up Hopetown is the ancestral land of the Caddo Native Americans and is owned by Leroy Page, a descendent of slaves. The land is unofficially divided into two sections: the area in which Leroy lives peacefully with members of the Caddo tribe and a trailer park where Levi and his family live, along with other poor whites. The separation between whites and non-whites harkens back to the segregation of the Jim Crow South.
The dynamics between the residents of the white and non-white sections of Hopetown are also reminiscent of the violent settler colonialism perpetrated against Native Americans. While Leroy is the owner of all of the land that constitutes Hopetown, he cannot evict the white residents due to a legal technicality. Instead of being grateful for having land to live on, the white residents are outwardly hostile towards Leroy and the Caddos in their personal interactions and even destroy their property. It is a reminder that unchecked, the ills of history will repeat themselves.
Forgiveness is another theme central to Heaven, My Home. When discussing the atrocities committed against Black people in the US Leroy asserts, “Black folks are the most forgiving people on earth.” However, the discussion of forgiveness is not limited to a broader analysis of oppression. Darren experiences and reflects upon a series of personal betrayals by his family and friends. He must determine whether forgiveness is a viable option in these insistences and whether forgiveness, in these situations, would be in his best interest. It is a nuanced exploration that dives into the different outcomes that may arise when forgiveness is given or withheld – what happens when forgiveness is extended to those that don’t deserve it as well as the fall out when the desire to forgive comes too late.
Heaven, My Home is a captivating crime novel that will keep you on your toes until the final reveal. At the same time, the story also deftly addresses the fall out of the 2016 presidential election, the consequences of cattle slavery and settler colonialism, as well as the broader theme of forgiveness. While the second book in the Highway 59 series, Locke’s novel can be read as a standalone that will have the reader thinking about it long after they’ve finished.
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