73 of 79 people found the following review helpful
The debut novel of author Attica Locke, Black Water Rising, is an excellent and atmospheric read.
The novel is set in 1980's Houston and begins simply enough: Lawyer Jay and his wife Bernadine are on a boat on the bayou celebrating her birthday, when they hear gunshots and see a woman plunge into the water. Jay rescues her and drops her off at the local poice station.
From here the story spins into multiple plotlines, Jay investigating the mystery woman after the boat-captain turns up dead, Jay becoming involved in a strike of the black Houston dockworkers at the behest of his father-in-law and flashbacks to Jay's own polical past in the Black Power movement in the 1960's. This last thread resonates into the present as Jay's former girlfried from his radical days is now Mayor of Houston. Underlying all of this is the Oil industry and the sinister figures in it's upper echelons.
The other reviews for this novel have been very mixed, but for me, this multi-strand plot works very well, is wonderfully faced, and to the author's credit, the novel surpasses the simple crime thriller genre to capture an authentic slice of American history. The author clearly knows Houston and it's history inside out and is able to beautifully recreate the time and transport you there. It reminds me very much of the novels of JAMES LEE BURKE and his wonderful evocations of New Orleans.
This is not a generic, throwaway thriller with implausible twists that make you wince with embarrassment, like the recent books by Jeffrey Deaver, but a thought-provoking and haunting novel that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Attica Locke's Orange-Prize nominated novel is a thriller that is also packed full of sharp observations of Reagan's America. Her hero Jay Porter is a hard-up Houston-based criminal lawyer. Once an ardent activist and follower of Martin Luther King, Jay has suffered for his beliefs and his role in the fight for equality, at one point almost ending up in jail. Now married to a pastor's daughter and awaiting the birth of his first child, he tries to avoid trouble at all costs. But one summer night as he is celebrating his wife's birthday with family and friends, he hears strange noises from the bayou nearby. With the help of a local boatman, Jay saves a woman from drowning - and inadvertently stumbles upon a crime scene. Jay's decision to help the woman and to avoid going to the police turns out to have dramatic consequences. Soon he finds himself caught in a web of crimes and corruption - and, this being Texas, oil turns out to play a fairly large role. And if this wasn't enough, Jay's former girlfriend Cynthia, now the Mayor, seems to be trying to get back into his life - but to what aim? As the plot thickens, and Jay finds himself unable to turn a blind eye to his discoveries, he realizes that there is hardly anyone that he can trust - and that his life may be in danger. Is he prepared to make a stand for justice?
I have to say that I found the first sixty pages or so of this book very hard going and nearly gave up - the plot moved with incredible slowness, the dialogue was creaky and the characters somewhat wooden. However, as Locke started fleshing out Jay's past and explaining his current circumstances, I found myself getting increasingly drawn in. From a social point of view this is a very involving book, full of revelations about the shocking racism that has dogged American society (not just towards black Americans but towards Hispanics too), interesting facts about the Afro-American fight for equality from the 1960s onwards and debate about how the oil trade has affected society in Texas. I found myself engrossed in Jay's memories of his past, and in his actions following his realization that to keep self-respect he must keep fighting against corruption. Admittedly, the thriller side of the story felt a bit OTT (almost to the point of parody at a couple of points - the scene where Jay ended up with his car nearly in front of a train, and another in which he blew the hand off someone (which seemed very out of character) read like a rather bad film) and I didn't feel that things came to a proper conclusion in the final chapters, possibly because Locke is keeping her options open for a sequel. And from a human point of view few of the characters outside Jay were all that deeply explored or particularly interesting. These things might put me off reading the book again - but the issues that Locke explores, her skill in weaving them together and the urgency of the latter stages of the novel still made it a very interesting read, and one in which I felt I'd learnt quite a bit about American society. I'm still not entirely sure why this made the Orange Shortlist - but it was certainly a worthy candidate for the Longlist.
Three and a half stars.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2010
Reading this I felt like it would have made one of those complicated American law movies - then I read on the back that the author is a script writer. The book just seems to touch on the issues of black American history but not really get there in an emotive way, and any action or passion is dealt with fairly quickly to return to more mundane references. It coulkd have been a lot shorter - or there could have been some more explanation of the history and the momentous events of those times for a white reader in the UK like me, who is interested in black history. I wanted to like it but really struggled to keep picking the book up -(I had to as it was or book group choice!). It got more interesting about two-thirds of the way through, then ended a bit disappointingly.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Set in 1981 Houston, Texas, this brings together three stories of which two are inspired by real events. The semi-factual elements are the (by then) pretty much redundant civil rights movement as championed by Martin Luther King, and the longshoremen strike in Houston dock in the early years of the Reagan era. The fictional tale entwined within these revolves around black lawyer Jay Porter, who rescues a woman from what might or might not have been an attempt on her life, and his subsequent involvement in the various union protests which to a large extent centre on racial discrimination. Towards the second half of the story, the emphasis shifts towards high-level corruption within the oil industry, and their attempts to keep prices high at a time when demand falls short of supply and the big oil companies adopt some highly dubious measures to store unused oil, methods that endanger the lives of hundreds if not thousands of residents living close to the secret storage facilities.
I liked this. The writing style is at all times polished and even classy, and the author should be complemented for achieving this in a first-time-out publication. I think it's fair to say that I was interested in all of the real-life political threads, and can understand other readers finding the book less than gripping if this aspect holds no appeal to them. The fictional tale is quite good and upheld by consistently vivid character-creation and development. Most of the story is related in the present tense, something I always find a distraction, but in this case it was used as a deliberate instrument to aid the reader differentiate between the present-day events (in 1981) and the baggage that Jay Porter carries around with him dating back a decade or more. His relationships with his wife and his former sort-of-girlfriend and now Mayor of Houston are particularly well drawn.
I made what I now know to be the mistake of leaving this on my to-be-read shelf for about two years; it turned out to be a more than decent read, even if I'd lean more towards 'interesting' rather than thrilling. There are some exciting set-pieces though and these too were written very well. Overall, this gets the thumbs-up from me, and Attica Locke shows great promise for the future.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 17 May 2011
I downloaded this with great expectations as I love reading new authors, however this book made very little impression on me and to be honest I got bored quite quickly.
It had all the promise for a good story ie Civil Rights,Southern politics and the Oil industry but failed to deliver.
This was such a shame because despite my lack of enthusiasm Attica Locke still has good writing skills and I think she is one to watch.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2011
This book is set in Houston Texas during the 1980s. While on a boat ride with his wife, the main character Jay hears gun shots and a scream and then sees a woman fall into the water. Jay rescues her, but in doing so becomes entangled in a murder investigation.
This book for me can be summed up in one infuriating sentence; `If he'd only gone to the police in the first place the whole thing could have been cleared up a lot quicker.' This is what I kept repeating to myself every time Jay got himself in yet more trouble as his situation become more and more convoluted in a plot that seemed to involve everyone all the way up to the Mayor of Houston itself. No really, it goes up as far as the Mayor.
It would not be fair to just dismiss this book as a standard crime novel as there are other elements packed in there such as the civil rights movement, corruption in the oil industry and union strikes and despite all these plot elements the story is quite easy to follow. Unfortunately this also involved many secondary characters who were not fleshed out sufficiently; the motivation for the `bad guy' for example is never fully explained and even Jay himself at times just seems to be there as a plot device.
While Jay runs around trying to get himself out of the mess he put himself in (if only he'd gone to the police) there are flashbacks to his life as a student when he was involved in the civil rights movement which included some jail time and the town Mayor. Yes that's right, that pesky Mayor again who features quite a lot yet we learn little about her, except that everything seems to involve her at some point whether its some plot involving oil or Jays personal life.
I'm not entirely sure what the point of Jay's flashbacks were aside from giving background on his relationship with the Mayor as they didn't really connect with the main story. Yes, we got to see what Jay had achieved since his time as a student but we didn't really need chapters and chapters of flashback to let the reader know that.
The author gives a great sense of the heavy and claustrophobic atmosphere of Houston and maybe fans of crime fiction looking for something slightly different may find this appealing. This was shortlisted for the Orange prize and does have its fans but unfortunately as you may have guessed, I didn't like it.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
I never felt much towards this novel, other than lukewarm curiosity. From the description, you think there is something substantial here -- a modern American literary novel set in 80s Houston. It is simply a substandard crime novel masquerading as something more literary -- though, there is nothing really to get you thinking (unless you can't picture that America was still quite racist back then, and need it spelling out to you every few pages).
The crime story is slow, I found, as nothing much happens other than plodding plot developments. They hear some shots and a woman gets into their boat. They drop her at the police station. That's all that happens for a very long time. Later, he revisits the scene of the crime, and then he occasionally worries that the police may think it was him (why?). After 120 pages, he visits the Mayor (who is, cringe, an old flame). It really is a bit of a trundle. Nothing to keep you hooked. Much focus is given to the background of the protagonist, which (like the rest) is just flat and uninspired. There is also no chemistry between him and his wife (both are too dreary), and you are simply left wincing whenever she appears. A side plot, involving industrial trouble at the docks, is largely irrelevant other than to spell out more racial tension. I felt this part of the story was included, simply as the writer had been inspired by season two of The Wire (set in similar circumstances), and wanted to have a go at it themselves. Nothing wrong with that (every author finds part of their inspiration from somewhere else), but, I think, that if you're picking something so mainstream, recent and accomplished to emulate, then you need to come at it with as much talent and originality as your source material.
As I said in the title, it is well written, the writing style is literary and Attica Locke has undeniable writing talents, but I couldn't stop asking myself: why? I could write a well written account from the life of some bloke down the road with vague crime elements and a bit of a rant mixed in. Why, why why? If you're going to write something serious about civil rights in Houston, you should do that: not mix it up with The Wire and Colombo.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 July 2010
The writer has tried to write a crime/political thriller based on the Civil Rights Movement in the USA. In order to fully understand the content one needs quite a bit of knowledge of this subject. As for the book itself I found it to be 427 pages of an introduction to a really interesting story that one never gets to know about.
on 14 April 2013
The Civil Rights Movement in the United States is examined from a completely different perspective in this debut novel.
Jay has a history - he was involved with radical groups such as the Panthers and was very nearly imprisoned. He was saved by a member of the jury. Now Jay runs a small law practice whose clientele is drawn from the rough, lower class black community of Houston. Jay finds it hard to make ends meet and his wife is heavily pregnant.
The multi-layered story involves a selection of low-life, union problems that cross racial divides and a murder to which he and his wife were bystanders.
This book works on many levels. It is a strong crime novel albeit one without a conclusion but mainly it has a strong sense of place and time. The background of the Civil Rights Movement is well-researched and the blue-collar union battles are realistic. Underpinning it all is that racial divide and just how difficult it was to be an educated black person in the South in the 70s and 80s.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2012
I wanted to like this book as the beginning was very promising. It was very well written and very atmospheric. However, the actual plot was all over the place and disjointed. And for a lawyer the main character made some incredibly idiotic decisions. So that wasn't very believable I'm afraid. However, I would try another book by this author.