Lightning Men

Written by Thomas Mullen
Review by Susan McDuffie

1950: In segregated Atlanta, a few black families buy homes in policeman Danny Rakestraw’s all white sub-division. “Negro Officers” Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith stumble onto a moonshine and marijuana drop in their precinct, and a man is shot dead by a mysterious marksman. A white businessman is savagely beaten by a trio of Ku Klux Klansmen in nearby Coventry. And Jeremiah is released from the Georgia State Prison in Reidsville after serving five years for trafficking in stolen goods during the war. Mullen flawlessly weaves these disparate threads together here, creating a rich tapestry of a novel.

This book vividly brings post-war and pre-Civil Rights era Atlanta to life. The opening passage hooked me, and I stayed riveted until the end. Mullen intensely evokes a segregated and racially divided Atlanta on the cusp of change. I spent many summers in Georgia during the mid- to-late 1950s, and this book brought it all back, both the good and the bad. I could taste the atmosphere. All the diverse characters in the novel are sympathetically portrayed and each individual is tested; loyalties and ideals are challenged and twisted by events and society, and no one emerges unscathed. Good historical fiction shines a light on the past and, in the process, illuminates the present. This novel does just that, especially considering some disturbing current events. Highly recommended.