A pair of rookie black cops in 1948 Atlanta uncover political corruption and conspiracy when they stumble on to a murder case.
What looks like a routine investigation of reckless driving becomes thorny when the driver turns out to be a white former Atlanta cop and the young black woman in the car with him turns up murdered a few nights later. Boggs and Smith, two of the city's new black policeman—issued firearms but confined to a segregated stationhouse and hated by their fellow white policeman—are determined to investigate the killing no matter where it leads. Their work is complicated by a racist veteran cop and his young partner, a white veteran who has no use for his partner's prejudice but also is careful not to make himself an outsider. There's a great subject in this book, not just the history of the first black men hired as cops in Atlanta, but the larger story of postwar America in which some veterans came back victorious only to find they were fighting another kind of fascism on the homefront. The trouble is that the characters exist as signifiers of ideas rather than people. It's a given that the racist cop will have a drooping belly, and so on. And because the characters lack the specificity that would give the reader a stake in them, the various indignities and atrocities read as both unpleasant and familiar things to endure on the way to a foregone conclusion.
A great historical subject deserves better than this by-the-numbers rendition.