three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
42-Sept-Oct-2009
By: 
Attica Locke
user_rating: 
0

A-Black Water RisingAttica Locke, a screenwriter for film and television, is currently working on an HBO miniseries about the civil rights movement. This is her first novel.

The Story: In the 1960s, a government frame-up and subsequent murder trial almost destroyed Jay Porter, a student veteran of the Black Power Movement. Now, in 1981 Houston, he is a struggling lawyer representing call girls out of a strip mall, trying to compartmentalize his past. Then one evening, while on a moonlight bayou cruise for his wife's birthday, he hears gunshots, witnesses a body enter the water, and saves a white woman from drowning. Loath to intervene, he drops her off at the police station. But his action opens a can of worms-her secrets and connections to corrupt oilmen, and his own ties to a black dockworkers' strike and the white mayor, an ex-girlfriend. As racial tensions simmer, Jay must reconcile his past demons with his idealism.
Harper. 430 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061735868

South FL Sun-Sentinel 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Using elements of the legal thriller, Black Water Rising also works as a historical mystery that perfectly captures the early 1980s and illustrates the ongoing civil rights struggle. ... Locke flawlessly melds social commentary into an action-packed crime fiction, never allowing the briskly paced Black Water Rising to be bogged down by her scintillating look at racism." Oline H. Cogdill

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Locke will earn well-deserved comparisons to Dennis Lehane for this work-she dissects Houston in the flush of the oil boom with just as much insight and precision as Lehane brought to his rendering of working-class Boston. ... The author's background as a TV and movie writer has served her well-her descriptions are every bit as striking as screen imagery." Joy Tipping

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel's portrayal of casual discrimination against honorable men is matter-of-fact and fully believable. ... Jay is a complex character, deliciously so, and one fully capable of bearing the strands of plot Locke weaves around his neck." Robin Vidimos

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"As befits a woman who was named for the 1971 New York State prison riot, Ms. Locke sustains a keen political awareness throughout her many-faceted story. ... Subtle and compelling as it is, Black Water Rising is at times overwritten." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 2 of 5 Stars
"All of these [plot] circumlocutions would be tolerable if the characters had any heft; instead, all of them, including Jay, feel sketchy. ... In Black Water Rising both the bayou and the mystery plot that arises from it are in need of a stronger filtration system." Maureen Corrigan

Critical Summary

Black Water Rising is an engrossing, complex, and cinematic novel about ethics and convictions, race relations, and one man's personal journey. Mixing social commentary and crime, Locke tells a compelling story about Jay's uneasy fight for justice; a few critics noted that Locke does for Houston what Dennis Lehane does for working-class Boston. While most reviewers thought that the characters could well handle the numerous subplots and back stories, the New York Times and Washington Post disagreed, though the former acknowledged the relevance of exploring Jay's activist college years. But clearly, this debut novel impressed almost all, with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel describing it as "one of the year's best debuts" and the Dallas Morning News calling Locke "destined for literary stardom."