Monday, 22 February 2010

Black Water Rising Review

Rich and absorbing, Black Water Rising is a slick, smart legal thriller. It is an addictive concoction fraught with politics, morality and law. Attica Locke has been lauded for this stylish, literary feast, catapulted into the company of the big guns and deservedly so. Dennis Lehaine and Scott Turow should make room, Locke is a writer to take note of and this is a brilliantly assured debut.

Set in the early 1980s, the novel charts the trials and tribulations of Jay Porter; our protagonist, fully formed and kicking and screaming onto the pages. Porter, a young black activist in the 1970’s is living his dream of becoming a lawyer. But the reality of realising the dream isn’t so sweet. The financial security he’d hoped for buckles in the distance, his clients are of a lower calibre and recognition eludes him. Life and work meanders along until a dramatic incident occurs. Jay saves a drowning woman and in doing so opens the flood gates to a war involving wealthy oil men, the elite of Houston and a battling union.

The novel deftly shifts between the past and the present. Locke is a gorgeous wordsmith who knows how to spin a good yarn. Her screen writing background is evident; the book is filmic, well etched and expertly paced. It refreshingly lacks all pretentiousness, instead cleverly weaves a complex plot with flawed characters that keep you turning the page. Interestingly, she manages the tricky task of capturing the spirit of the 1980’s with an eerily accurate reflection of the social and political climate of the time, all done through the jaded yet idealistic eyes of Jay Porter.

The city she portrays hums to life, the newness of wealthy development areas, the decay of the poorer districts, the seediness of strip clubs and flashy restaurants, all with an anxiety bubbling beneath the surface. A haze of confusion clouds this slice of America, oil money and new technology are bringing an economic boom to some and uncertainty to others. The novel moves between these two halves, those fully exploiting these new opportunities and those excluded from it and wary. Topics such as moral corruption, racism and equality are heavily intertwined in the fabric of the novel, yet in never feels bogged down by it. Not only is it personalised but the social commentary is skilfully despatched through the guise of a thriller. Jay Porter is a man biting the morality bullet. Attica Locke has burst on to the literary scene with a humdinger of a novel and it’s just a matter of time before a screen adaptation beckons.

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