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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Depiction of Reagan's America, 16 July 2014
This review is from: Black Water Rising (Jay Porter) (Paperback)
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.
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