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Black Water Rising

by Attica Locke

This is a stylish and engaging debut novel, a thriller as slick as its subject matter – oil. It’s Houston, Texas in the early 1980s and Jay Porter is a young African American lawyer married to Bernice who is pregnant with their first child. His practice is struggling, his clients mostly those seeking compensation for personal injury and, needless to say, money is tight. Nevertheless, he decides that he wants to make Bernie’s birthday, the last before the child arrives, a special one so he hires a barge to take them on a romantic moonlight cruise on Houston’s Buffalo Bayou. The boat is shabbier than Jay had hoped but Bernie appreciates the thought – food, wine, flowers, music. Then the mood is shattered. A woman screams, shots are fired and the splash that they hear can only be a body hitting the water. Jay dives into the bayou and surfaces with a woman who is unwilling to say what happened to her and Jay and Bernie are reluctant to get involved - a reluctance stemming from Jay’s Black Power youth and his clash with the “imaginative” law enforcement of the south. They take the woman to the police station and hope that is an end of the thing. But when he hears about the death of a man at that place at the same time, Jay’s natural curiosity and sense of justice won’t let it be and we’re taken on a dark and deep journey into a world of political unrest, rising oil prices and corruption.

The story then goes back and forth from the 1980s to Jay’s political youth and, if I have a criticism of the book, then this is it. Attica Locke is a screenwriter and it shows. The back-story, while absolutely relevant, is over-explained and gets in the way at times of a really exciting plot. Nevertheless, as an avid reader of the crime genre I found this story gripping and the murky setting of the Houston Bayou extremely different and atmospheric.

Irene Haynes


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