Saturday, June 05, 2010

Texas Thriller As Sluggish as a Houston Summer

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Jay Porter's attempts to speak out against injustice land him in jail, he vows to let someone else save the world. All he wants to do is get out and get on with his life. A decade later, he has. He's not exactly living the American Dream, but he's got a wife, a law degree, and a baby on the way. So what if he runs his business out of a shabby strip mall? So what if his most promising client is a brainless hooker? So what if he can barely afford to pay rent, let alone bottles and diapers? He's free, ain't he?

The last thing Jay needs in his life is a complication, but that's exactly what he gets on the night he takes his wife for a birthday cruise through Buffalo Bayou. The muddy waterway winds through some of the worst neighborhoods in Houston - they're floating near Fifth Ward when they hear a scream followed by two gunshots and a splash. Jay has no desire to get involved in whatever's going on out in the darkness, but he jumps into the water anyway. The woman he fishes out of the sludge looks like she walked off Fifth Avenue not Fifth Ward. Clearly, something's not right here. Jay drops the lady off at the police station, desperate to forget the whole thing ever happened.

Only, he can't forget. The details of that night continue to haunt him. Before he's even made a conscious decision to investigate, Jay's asking questions. The more he probes, the less anything makes sense. Why is the incident being kept out of the papers? Who is the girl Jay pulled out of the bayou? What was she doing in one of the toughest parts of the city? Guilt wracks Jay's every waking moment - should he go to the police with the little he knows? He can't risk ending up in jail a second time. It's better to keep his mouth shut. Except that the more he learns, the more outrageous the story becomes. Jay learned long ago to let someone else take on all the injustice in the world, but apparently, he's the only one who can fight this battle. Can a struggling black lawyer take on the biggest names in Houston oil? Will he risk everything - once again - to make things right? Or will he go with his first instinct and leave the whole thing alone?

Attica Locke's debut novel, Black Water Rising, is a gritty thriller that examines inequality on every level. It looks at the Civil Rights movement; the disillusionment of freedom fighters who continued to battle racial inequality even into the '80s; the difficulty of rising above one's criminal record (no matter how undeserved); and the struggle of the average man against the supremacy oil money. It was Locke's scrutiny of these big issues, more than anything else, that kept me reading Black Water Rising. The book's characters really didn't speak to me, the plot moves as slowly as a dingy rowboat floating down Buffalo Bayou, and the overall tone is decidedly depressing. Locke's writing impresses, for sure, but I still had a hard time sticking with the story. The action eventually picks up, moving toward a powerful conclusion - it just takes a very patient reader to stay with it for that long. I did like the premise of the novel, it just needed a more exciting execution, a little speed to make it move. Locke's debut proves she has the talent - time will see what she does with it. Regardless, Attica Locke is definitely an author to watch.

(Readalikes: The back cover blurbs compare Locke to Dennis Lehane and Scott Turow.)

Grade: C

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence and sexual content

To the FTC, with love: This review is part of a virtual book tour coordinated by the folks over at TLC Book Tours. To see the rest of the tour stops, click here.

2 comments:

  1. I really need to read this book at some point soon. Since our summer is rapidly moving into the sluggish stage - humidity is rising, rising, rising - this might be the time. Thanks for your thoughts. Sounds like a worthwhile journey to take, with a little patience.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dang. That's too bad that it gets off to a slow start. I'm glad it picked up in the end, but I'm a firm believer that a good ending does not a good book make. :)

    Thanks for being on this tour!

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