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Well written, but badly thought out.
on 19 March 2010
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.