Harper, New York, 2010
Nominated for the 2010 Orange Prize, the 2010 Edgar Award and the NAACP Image Award.
Borrowed from the library,
I love a good mystery but don’t usually review them because there are so many great mystery/thriller review blogs out there. I am making an exception for this book.
Attica Locke has written a big-town, dirty-politics thriller that combines literary skill with great story-telling, flavored with some of the history of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Her protagonist, Jay Porter, a young and struggling lawyer, played a part within that movement and Locke tells his story brilliantly. Some readers have trouble with books that combine fiction with politics. I don’t. I appreciate it and enjoy it.
Jay used to have break-ins all the time. His dorm room, the duplex on Scott Street where he stayed sometimes, even his first apartment after his trial, a one room rattrap in the Bottoms in the Third Ward. The feds and local law enforcement often came and went as they pleased, going through his things, bugging the phones. But they never left more than a faint trace: a lamp out of place, a phone book moved a few inches to the left of where it had been, or his papers rearranged in a slightly different order than before. Everything else was exactly the way he had left it, down to the cigarette butts in the ashtrays and the dirty dishes in the sink. The only firm clues that someone had been in his place were the tiny recording devices he used to pull out of his phone receivers.
He’s already checked the kitchen phone tonight. From page 144.
Jay, and his pregnant wife, Bernie, are celebrating her birthday on Buffalo Bayou when they hear screams and gunshots. They pull a young woman from the water, starting a rush of events that leads to the highest levels of political and corporate power in the Houston area. I find the way that Locke intertwines the past and the present very clear, never jarring or confusing. Her story paints telling portraits, of Huston in the 1980’s, of a young man’s struggle to understand his past and to live in the present.
He can’t help feeling this whole thing is a setup, the money nothing but bait. But why, he thinks, would anyone want to trap him? His whole life he’s made no enemies he can think of…save for the U.S. government, of course.
The thought is like a hand grenade tossed under his bathroom door.
He watches it roll across the floor, taking up position at his feet.
The blow, when it comes, takes his breath away.
He has a sudden sharp memory of Charlie Wade Robinson, a Panther out of Detroit, Michigan. Back in ’69, the feds tried to nail him on a charge of conspiracy to commit mayhem and engage in unlawful assembly, which one progressive judge promptly through out of his court. When the feds couldn’t get Charlie Wade on that, they tried to put him away on an illegal weapons charge. But he dodged that bullet too. Two years ago, the way Jay heard it, Charlie Wade Robinson was coming out of a McDonald’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, his six-year-old daughter in tow, when federal officers arrested him on felony tax evasion, right there in the parking lot. Long out of the politics game by then, Charlie Wade had started an arcade business with an investor he’d met at a party, and the IRS claimed they’d played fast and loose with the accounting. The feds had finally found a charge that would stick. He’d been locked up ever since. From pages 174/175.
Many people where surprised at the fact that this book was included on the short list for the 2010 Orange Prize. I am not going to get into that discussion. Black Water Rising is the second book I have read this year that deals with the political and social turmoil surrounding the evolution of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the history of the Black Panther Party. Both novels were written by young black women, authors brave enough to begin tackling this thorny history. Attica Locke, a former fellow at the Sundance Institute and a Los Angeles screenwriter, has written a great first novel. I look forward to her second.