Black Water Rising by Attica Locke. Serpents Tail, 2009.
This is getting to be habit forming, my beloved passing me a book and asking for a review. Fortunately, I enjoyed this one very much; it helped me pass an otherwise unproductive day immersed in a good story.
The perhaps unwitting, certainly unwilling hero, Jay, a black lawyer, ex Black Panther now scratching a living in the poorer suburbs of 1980’s Houston has to struggle with all of these. Searching for a witness to shore up the only case he has and desperate for income with his wife heavily pregnant with their first child. At the same time he is withholding material evidence as a witness himself to another crime. He has also received a good deal of hush money, albeit under duress. Yet he has not lost all of his youthful activist idealism, for he wants more than anything,
“Something more than the early movements fight for legal equality and freedom in the streets. Jays dream was for freedom in his own mind, liberation from the kind of soul-crushing fear that took his fathers life.”The crime investigations going on throughout this book are also sufficiently convoluted to be engaging, slowly unfolding the wrinkles twists and turns, offer thoughtful commentary on the nature of sin. Is it personal choice or structural failure? It also contains much material for reflection on the development of arguments in equality and diversity, through a brief historical perspective on the civil rights movements through the fifties to the seventies. As the union dispute heightens, a key meeting hears Jays father in law, the Revd Boykins,
“I think the hope has always been that you see what you see, and you take us anyway for who we are…Not that we all go around pretending we’re the same. I don’t see how that helps anybody”I struggle with the blurbs and comments suggestion that this is a ‘thriller’ as it lacks the pace that I would associate with that term. If anything the text almost exists in sibilant harmony with the long hot august afternoons in Texas in which it take place, too hot to do anything at speed. It is nonetheless engaging with sufficient crises and peaks plus the odd red herring, and some tense moments in court. Nor do I feel that this novel truly sits well as ‘crime fiction’. That is more the shell within which is a precious sweet kernel of social commentary, which begins and ends in the author doing what many first time writers are advised to do, Write what you know’. Perhaps this feeling simply reflects my own worldview for I was delighted to discover in the authors end piece that the turning event of the book and its subsequent development, is an extrapolation from an incident in her family’s life, where a differing decision is taken. A ‘what if’…
She references her father,
“For him is had become an almost religious parable, a tale in which one might discover the person who they really are: A man who is led by cynicism or by his faith.”For me too, Ms Locke, me too.
A very impressive first novel and one that I shall be recommending to friends and the kids at work.
Neal Terry, 06/07/2010
Attica Locke – Homepage.
Petty Witter says: Obviously another book we are going to have to agree to disagree on. I loved Robert Tressell's THE RAGGED TROUSERED PHILANTHROPISTS but did not enjoy Black Water Rising at all (See my review HERE) - perhaps because I could identify with the working class painters and decorators of Tressell's novel whereas, try as I might, I just couldn't do that with the characters of Black Water Rising. Nearly forgot, thanks for the review.