Stunning debut crime – Black Water Rising

by |September 8, 2009

A few people have asked me lately why I am always so enthusiastic about the books I review. I get the gist – why the hyperbole? Are those books really all that good?

Well no, its not hyperbole. The way I see it, there are so many deeply satisfying reads, why waste time finishing something that doesn’t grab you, let alone talking about it (despite being sorely tempted from time to time, especially in the case of one very well known author whose writing,  in my opinion, is a dance of a thousand cliches).

blackwaterrisingA long preamble to introduce a stunning crime noir read from debut author Attica Locke. Black Water Rising is laid out so clearly you can feel the sweat of the Bayou heat trickling down between your shoulder blades, you can see the marshes oozing, you can feel the pulse in the temple of its hero, journeyman Afro American lawyer Jay Porter.

Attica Locke weaves a tangled web of murder and intrigue, court room drama, set-up and counter set-up, unholy alliance of politics and business (something strangely familiar given the current daily unfolding of theories surrounding the recent murder of Michael McGurk in Sydney). Most of all, she tells a story of a man held ransom by his past. And Porter’s past plunges straight right back to the birth, and  some might say abrupt strangling, of the civil rights movement in America.

attica lockeLocke knows about this subject. She grew up near Buffalo Bayou in Houston where her story is set. Named after an uprising in Attica prison in upstate New York in 1971, Locke is the daughter of a couple who made the transition from college radicals to working professionals, never stopping to voice the disillusionment they felt about a social movement that stopped just short of real victory.

“I felt the weight of what went unspoken”, she explains.

“In both my parents’ lives, in their hearts, in their quietest moments, there was a palpable sense of melancholy, a sense of loss that the times didn’t make a lot of space for. In the early Reagan era, the whole country was caught up in a colletive fit of amnesia over the wounds and hurt feelings of the 1960s and 70s. And no place more so than Houston, Texas, which was awash with oil money and a blind, almost arrogant sense that the future held nothing but promise.”

Attica Locke has been getting a lot of attention for her debut novel, and a lot of excellent reviews.

Black Water Rising is a near-perfect balance of trenchant social commentary, rich characterizations and an action-oriented plot according to the LA Times.

That action-oriented plot is drawn directly from the author’s past, with the central event of the novel based on an incident that happened to the eleven year old Locke and her family one night on the Bayou. She has made a tight, tense thriller out of it, a story where the big picture is just a menacing as the personal drama. Talk about the sins of the father being visited on the son. As the lyrics say, Adam raised a Cain. I couldn’t put this one down.

Pub. date : October 1.

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