Review: Black Water Rising, Attica Locke

Sooooooooo. This is mixed. Not mixed in the way like that everything about it was neutral to me. Mixed in the way that some things about it were neutral to me, some things about it I loved so, so hard, and all of me thinks Attica Locke’s second book sounds m.f. amazing and I want to read it. I realize that is a very specific kind of mixed, but I want y’all to know exactly where my head’s at.

Jay Porter is a lawyer and one-time civil rights worker in 1980s Houston. When he and his pregnant wife help out a white woman in danger, they quickly find themselves in peril. There’s, like, conspiracies that go all the way to the top? And then union disputes? And some flashbacks to when Jay Porter was a hotheaded young civil rights guy chillin with Stokely Carmichael. If this sounds like a lot of different things in one book, it is because it is really too many things for one book.

So that’s one thing that I didn’t love. The book just has so much stuff going on. Too much stuff for me, and I am a girl who is perpetually trying to talk everyone into The Vampire Diaries by assuring them enthusiastically that a lot of stuff happens (my God a lot of stuff happens in that show). In particular: Jay’s working with the mayor, with whom he has a History, to help resolve a labor dispute between some members of his father-in-law’s church and the white members of the union. This plotline isn’t unrelated to the rest of the book, but it’s not that interesting because there isn’t enough space for it. Plus it detracts from the other, more interesting plotline by taking space away from that one. It made me feel a bit like Attica Locke didn’t know where she really wanted to aim me.

The more interesting story is about the white woman Jay and his wife help out. The day after they help her, they discover that a man has been found shot twice (on the night in question they heard two shots fired) not far from where they found the woman. Fearful that he — a black professional in 1980s Houston with a criminal record from his college days — will be accused in the crime, Jay is reluctant to go to the police. But his sense of justice doesn’t let him leave the story alone, and he finds himself more and more deeply enmeshed in the situation that unfolds, and less and less able to extract himself.

All the racial stuff was fantastic, I thought, from the tension at the white woman’s initial appearance, to Jay’s reluctance to engage with the police unnecessarily, to his parents’ tragic backstory, to the backstory about Jay and civil rights and the Black Panthers (slightly teachery but exciting for me because I knew all those facts already from that time I read some books about the Black Panthers) — none of it was done in too-broad strokes or milked for moar feelings than it deserved. This is what kept me reading when parts of the plot bogged down a little, and I’m really really really excited about Attica Locke’s second book, a mystery about a black woman who runs a plantation house in modern-day Louisiana (my hooooome state!).

The other reviews are numerous. Here they all are.

13 thoughts on “Review: Black Water Rising, Attica Locke

  1. Totally agree with your final paragraph, yay for agreement :) Also I did enjoy the thriller storyline, but I wasn’t sold on the conclusion to that plot point (I actually spent ages going ‘Huh?’ before I got that things were about oil – is that even right?). On the other hand I reeeeally liked the union stuff. Putting all that in made it feel very socially real to me and reminded me of the way my favourite thriller writers mix the political shock up with real feeling life (Dennis Lehane, John Le Carre, Graham Greene…why do I have no female examples to offer here? *sigh*). Saying that, oh my YES the book felt like it had too much stuff crammed in and really crammed; not trying to subvert the tidiness of a plot based thriller, really things were just shoved in.

    I’m also looking forward to her second book. I had a suspicion that she might not write another, what with this one being based on an idea drawn from personal history. And that would have been a shame, because I think there’s tons of potential in that first novel.

    • Me too! I am not sure she went the right way on that. I felt like it made the woman a smidge too gullible — how does she know the guy won’t try it again, for heaven’s sake? I liked the union stuff but wasn’t sure how it fit with the rest of the book.

      The second novel really does sound wonderful. I love the premise.

  2. I am not sure this one is for me. The fact that so much is happening kind of turns me off. I do love it when there is a whole bunch of stuff happening, but too much, and it becomes overwhelming. I do think the second plot element sounds intense though, and I am glad to have read your review on this one because there is a teensy chance that I may go for it. I have some books that I give really mixed reviews to as well, because I am just so torn between loving them, and thinking they are just “meh”.

    • I actually thought of you while I was reading this! There is too much stuff happening but it still seemed like something you would read. Maybe try her second one — I bet she’s gotten better at plotting in the second novel, and the premise is outstanding.

  3. I felt mixed about this one too. I’ve noticed I never really love a political conspiracy-esque mystery, because I spend too much time inwardly rolling my eyes at the plot. But her second book sounds wonderful!

    • I’m trying to think now if political conspiracies ever work for me. I’m sort of on board with the proposed political conspiracy in that new show, Last Resort? But even there, it interests me less than the main character issuing dramatic pronouncements from his island. I do think that books/shows tend to start irritating me at the exact moment someone says (some version of) “You have no idea how high up this goes.”

  4. I also like it when there’s “too much” stuff going on, although I usually need some kind of wit or cleverness to love it.
    You and Memory are really making me consider The Vampire Diaries now, even though I can’t imagine liking it (Walker saw an ad for it last night when we were watching Supernatural which is on one of the seven channels we get, and he said something about it looking like Twilight and I said I knew some people who like it and he said huh).

    • Listen, Jeanne, I am not just saying it about Vampire Diaries. It looks like Twilight a lot for the first five episodes, and then it gets abruptly SO AWESOME. The first two seasons, especially the second, are among the most tightly plotted and well-executed seasons of television I’ve ever seen. Including the very very strong second season of Justified, and the very strong indeed first season of Veronica Mars.

  5. I’ve been wanting to read this one for awhile now. I think I’ve even checked it out from the library a couple of times but sent it back unread. I hate when I do that especially after reading your thoughts on this one because it makes me wish I had read it. Guess I’ll have to grab it again when I’m at the library next :)

  6. I’ve long been intending to read this one, as it does sound like it contains some awesomeness. But I might just plow on in with her second when it comes out in paperback. I do think she’s a very intriguing writer, and one to watch.

  7. I agree with you that this book has far too much going on. I think she could have easily cut 100 pages and it would still have the same emotional punch. I think I’m the only one that feels that way though – you make me feel a little bit better about it. All I’ve read are RAVE reviews and I think it’s a bit long and slow.

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