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[355] Black Water Rising – Attica Locke

” They’re fucking hometown heroes. I mean, these people get schools named after ’em, for God’s sake. They built parks and arts centers and all that kind of crap. Not to mention they employ, with all their satellites and subsidiaries, something like twenty percent of the workforce in the entire country. ” [26:371]

Set in 1981 Houston, when racial attitudes were rife and tense, and the city struggled to keep up with growth from the oil boom, Jay Porter, a former Black Power radical, is running a fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. Until an accident that snares him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice and threaten his family, his most promising client is a low-rent call girl, who is involved with a port commissioner.

But it was a moral victory, not an economic one. What he made off the city’s meager settlement wasn’t enough to cover his expenses or to make up for money he lost by ignoring his other cases during the trial. [2:35]

With a desire to see justice done, Jay sometimes takes cases for free or accepts payment in goods and services. He, quite frankly, can’t afford his principles. Were it not for his moral conviction, he really should keep his hands off Elise Linsey’s business when he saved her from drowning on the night he celebrated his pregnant wife’s birthday on the boat. Who would have guessed the terrified, shaken, teeth-chattering victim of an attack is linked to a murder and an oil reserve hoax? Soon Jay finds himself in the midst of hush money, a break-in, a mysterious spy in a Ford, and death threat—all because his concern for the woman is uncalled for.

He resents the pull of money, the power he assigned it, the ways he imagined the hand that dealt it held dominion over him. He’s angry with himself for cowering, for not going to the police from the very beginning, as a free man, an innocent man. He is also ashamed of the way he’s behaved, so ashamed of his fear. [23:304]

Obviously Black Water Rising, Locke’s debut, bears a message: to expose the flaws of corporate America during a period of tumultuous history, expounding social structures and the attendant injustices. In fulfilling this ambitious mission, Locke consigns to subplots concerning union dispute and an assault on a black lad orchestrated by a white union VP. This is unfortunately accomplished at the expense of the novel’s focus and uniformity. Removing the lens of race is certainly Locke’s sentiment but the way it’s incorporated into the story is completely out of context. The strong lead of the murder mystery is bogged down by the subplot. The motive behind the mystery is greed. Corporate greed. Orchestrated with cunning so all trails are covered and evidence annihilated. The woman Jay saved was no more than a pawn, caught in the grand scheme of the upper echelon who controlled the economy. Despite the loose bundles and ambivalent ending, the novel is an authentic treatise of 1980s Texas, and a evocative social commentary.

427 pp. Trade Paperback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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5 Responses

  1. I did enjoy this one and really think the author has great potential.

  2. Sounds like the book had potential that just wasn’t lived up to….I hate when that happens!

  3. For Houstonians who were there in the early 80’s, the author does reel you in to all the nuance of the city–and the political/social culture of the time. Definitely a read for ex-Texans!

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