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August 5, 2010 / C.T. Henry

REVIEW: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

SYNOPSIS:
Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl and he runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. But he’s long since made peace with not living the American Dream and carefully tucked away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.

Houston, Texas, 1981. It is here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night in a boat out on the bayou when he impulsively saves a woman from drowning—and opens a Pandora’s box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston’s corporate power brokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.

REVIEW: After a confusing start, the book improved chapter by chapter, until I couldn’t put it down.  The book’s likable protagonist, Jay Porter, is a man with a past.  Locke doesn’t completely ignore who Jay was during the Civil Rights Movement, but instead decides to reveal aspects of his past as a subplot. It’s because of Jay’s impassioned defense against injustice that he won’t keep quiet about a contemporary conspiracy that may be too big for him.  Locke even tackles current race problems with Jay’s involvement in a labor union strike.

Two criticisms though: First, almost every male character we meet at the beginning of the book, except Jay and his father-in-law, the Reverend, is a scumbag womanizer.  When men write female characters, who are all one-dimensional, they get called on it.  I’m calling Locke on it too.  Second, the evidence for the conspiracy seems to neatly find Jay from other sources.  I wish Jay were more of a detective sleuth, and figure the pieces of the puzzle out on his own.

My favorite part is Locke’s epilogue, where she explains that the first part of the book actually happened, and how when her father, when faced with a dilemma, chose not to act.  She begins and ends the book very well with the idea that in such situations, we must stand up. Recommended.  Great character novel, but the plot gets a little too unwieldy.

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