Black Water Rising

Black Water Rising

3.3 39
by Attica Locke
     
 

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Jay Porter has long since made peace with not living the American Dream. He runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy Houston strip mall—where his most promising client is a low-rent call girl—and he's determined to leave the sins of his past buried: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him. That is, until the night he saves

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Overview

Jay Porter has long since made peace with not living the American Dream. He runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy Houston strip mall—where his most promising client is a low-rent call girl—and he's determined to leave the sins of his past buried: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him. That is, until the night he saves a woman from drowning and inadvertently opens a Pandora's box. Her secrets reach into the upper echelons of Houston's corporate power brokers and ensnare Jay in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family . . . even his life.

Black Water Rising is a brilliant debut thriller that marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.

Editorial Reviews

Booklist
"First-novelist Locke presents a searing portrait of a man struggling to reconcile the bitterness of his life experiences with the idealism of his convictions. Like Dennis Lehane, she skillfully deploys the conventions of the thriller while also presenting biting social commentary, a sure sense of place, and soulful characters."
Associated Press
“Attica Locke is a vivid storyteller. . . .Without pretence, she provides an engaging story about one man’s enduring struggle for justice and equality. It’s a must for your summer reading list.”
Dallas Morning News
“An astonishingly accomplished debut . . . It’s a completely absorbing, gorgeously written early 1980s story . . . Locke will earn well-deserved comparisons to Dennis Lehane for this work . . . This author is destined for literary stardom.”
New York Times
“[A] deeply nuanced story . . . As Scott Turow has done, Ms. Locke uses small, incremental deceptions to draw her main character into big and dangerous mistakes . . . Subtle and compelling.”
Los Angeles Times
“Locke deftly moves between past and present action . . . [putting] her in the company of master thriller writers such as Dennis Lehane or Scott Turow. . . . Attica Locke [is] a writer wise beyond her years.”
Mystery Scene Magazine
“Publishers like to pepper their hypewithwords like ‘superlative,’ ‘auspicious,’ ‘universal,’ and ‘dazzling’ (all used about this book), claims that are usually ignored. This time, though, they’re absolutely right. If you only read one suspense novel this summer, make it Black Water Rising.”
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“[An] extraordinary debut. . . . This kind of racial authenticity and insight is rarely seen in the genre outside of Walter Mosley and Dennis Lehane. Plus, [Locke] really knows how to build suspense.”
Essence
“Locke shines . . . this is a rare occasion where the hype is deserved. . . . Locke seamlessly weaves history, suspense, and passion in this promising tale that will linger long after this season.”
BookPage
“Black Water Rising is an excellent book by any measure, but as a debut, it is nothing short of astonishing.”
Seattle Times
“Black Water Rising [is] a strong and whip-smart debut from Attica Locke. Set in the author’s native Houston, it’s both a compelling mystery and a sharp, literate portrait of the social layers within that city’s black community.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Locke gives readers a well-paced suspense tale. . . . Let’s hope Locke has more novels in her. Any author who can make readers actually like a low-rent lawyer has talent to spare.”
San Francisco Bay Guardian
Black Water Rising reads like a hard-boiled thriller, but the real trick resides in Locke’s ability to personalize an overlooked part of American history and show how far-reaching, how entrenched, it is in today’s social, political, and cultural fabric.”
Booklist (starred review)
“First-novelist Locke presents a searing portrait of a man struggling to reconcile the bitterness of his life experiences with the idealism of his convictions. Like Dennis Lehane, she skillfully deploys the conventions of the thriller while also presenting biting social commentary, a sure sense of place, and soulful characters.”
Sacramento Book Review
“A crackling thriller from Attica Locke. . . . Locke’s writing is sharp and authentic; you can practically hear the Southern drawl emanating off the page . . . a writer we’ll need to keep an eye on”
South Florida Sun Sentinel
“Locke flawlessly melds social commentary into an action-packed crime fiction, never allowing the briskly paced Black Water Rising to be bogged down by her scintillating look at racism…. Locke proves herself an author to watch with Black Water Rising, clearly one of the year’s best debuts.”
West University Examiner
“A crackling good Houston-based mystery that captures the spirit of the boomtown era of the early 1980s . . . Intriguing . . . In the guise of a summer mystery, [Locke] subtly examines the history of race relations and the transition to an integrated America.”
Associated Press Staff
“Attica Locke is a vivid storyteller. . . .Without pretence, she provides an engaging story about one man’s enduring struggle for justice and equality. It’s a must for your summer reading list.”
James Ellroy
“What a ride! Black Water Rising is a superlative debut; a wonderful treatise on the Texas 1980s; the best bad town novel in some time. Attica Locke is a stand-out in every imperative-young-writer way.”
George Pelecanos
Black Water Rising is a stylish, involving literary thriller with a strong emphasis on human politics and character. An auspicious debut from Attica Locke.”
Sarah Weinman
“This debut thriller charges out of the gate, boldly establishing Locke as a name to look out for in years to come.”
Charles McGrath
Jay Porter, a struggling black lawyer and the protagonist, is more than casually wary of the police and keeps three guns handy just in case. But then no one completely trusts anyone here. The book cleverly replaces the kind of cold-war paranoia that used to animate thrillers with racial paranoia instead.
—The New York Times
Janet Maslin
…atmospheric…deeply nuanced story…[Locke] is able to write about Jay's urgent need to behave manfully and become a decent father with a serious, stirring moral urgency akin to that of George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This extraordinary debut focuses on Jay Porter, a black lawyer in Houston struggling to become upwardly mobile while weighed down by a past as a civil rights worker who was betrayed and disillusioned. His moral fiber is put to the test when he's witness to a murder that eventually places him and his pregnant wife in jeopardy. It's a good thriller setup, but what distinguishes Locke's story are the glimpses into Porter's past, which, in turn, focus on the racial rebellions on campuses in the '60s (the author has written an upcoming HBO miniseries on the civil rights movement). Dion Graham's whispery, almost sing-song narration seems initially inappropriate, but, oddly, as the plot unfolds, this approach morphs into a mesmerizing intimacy that makes Locke's riveting prose even more compelling. A Harper hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 6). (July)
Library Journal

When Houston lawyer Jay Porter responds to pressure from his wife and jumps into the bayou to rescue a drowning white woman during a birthday dinner cruise he'd planned, he has no idea of the hell he's about to enter. There's a murder nearby that same night. Jay suspects that the drowning woman was involved. Ominous threats convince him that it's bigger than just a simple murder and that the players go all the way to the top of Houston's business and political elite. Only by facing down the racially charged past that's been haunting him for years can Jay find it in himself to overcome his longstanding belief in keeping quiet instead of speaking up. Despite a slow start and a measured pace that fail to give the narrative the expected intensity, Locke's debut thriller ends in a satisfying whirlwind of drama. Deftly exploring social and economic themes during the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, she balances Jay's current situation with flashbacks to his past as a student activist fighting for racial equality. Readers who enjoy Stephen Carter's thrillers (e.g., The Emperor of Ocean Park) will want to try. [Screenwriter Locke is currently working on an HBO miniseries about the Civil Rights Movement.-Ed.]
—Amy Brozio-Andrews

Kirkus Reviews
A debut thriller about an African-American lawyer with some difficult clients and a radical past. Jay Porter smokes too many Newports; he's short on money; his wife Bernie is pregnant; and the slip-and-fall lawsuits that bolster his practice have nearly dried up as Houston heads from boom to bust in 1981. When he rescues a woman from a bayou after gunshots ring out, Jay keeps mum to the cops. His own tangles with "the Man" haunt him: At 19, only a close-call acquittal saved him from going to prison on a charge of helping to kill a federal agent. From his radical past, Jay is left with wariness and memories of a romance with white revolutionary Cynthia Maddox, who turns up years later as Houston's mayor and with whom he reconnects while representing a hooker in a civil case against an oil magnate. Jay needs the mayor's help to protect striking black union members who have come to him after being assaulted by their white counterparts. The book's three intersecting story lines promise nothing but trouble. The rescued woman is either a victim, a killer or a pawn in a scheme to damage Jay; the hooker could bring down the oilman; and the strike could bankrupt Houston. Jay, pulled into this vortex, also struggles with grim memories of his dad fatally beaten by rednecks and Black Panther allies decimated by the FBI. Locke expertly etches a portrait of her anxiety-ridden protagonist, and she animates the complex plot with the assurance of a practiced screenwriter (she's currently working on an HBO series about civil rights).

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061735851
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
04/20/2010
Pages:
427
Sales rank:
349,217
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Black Water Rising
A Novel

Chapter One

Texas, 1981

The boat is smaller than he imagined. And dingier.

Even at night Jay can tell it needs a paint job.

This is not at all what they discussed. The guy on the phone said "moonlight cruise." City lights and all that. Jay had pictured something quaint, something with a little romance, like the riverboats on the Pontchartrain in New Orleans, only smaller. But this thing looks like a doctored-up fishing boat, at best. It is flat and wide and uglyâ€"a barge, badly overdressed, like a big girl invited to her first and probably last school dance. There are Christmas lights draped over every corner of the thing and strung in a line framing the cabin door. They're blinking erratically, somewhat desperately, winking at Jay, promising a good time, wanting him to come on in. Jay stays right where he is, staring at the boat's cabin: four leaning walls covered with a cheap carport material. The whole thing looks like it was slapped together as an afterthought, a sloppy attempt at decorum, like a hat resting precariously on a drunk's head.

Jay turns and looks at his wife, who hasn't exactly gotten out of the car yet. The door is open and her feet are on the ground, but Bernie is still sitting in the passenger seat, peeking at her husband through the crack between the door and the Skylark's rusting frame. She peers at her shoes, a pair of navy blue Dr. Scholl's, a small luxury she allowed herself somewhere near the end of her sixth month. She looks up from her sandals to the boat teeter-tottering on the water. She is making quick assessments, he knows, weighing her physical conditionagainst the boat's. She glances at her husband again, waiting for an explanation.

Jay looks out across the bayou before him. It is little more than a narrow, muddy strip of water flowing some thirty feet below street level; it snakes through the underbelly of the city, starting to the west and going through downtown, all the way out to the Ship Channel and the Port of Houston, where it eventually spills out into the Gulf of Mexico. There's been talk for years about the "Bayou City" needing a river walk of its own, like the one in San Antonio, but bigger, of course, and therefore better. Countless developers have pitched all kinds of plans for restaurants and shops to line Buffalo Bayou. The city's planning and development department even went so far as to pave a walkway along the part of the bayou that runs through Memorial Park. The paved walkway is as far as the river-walk plan ever went, and the walkway ends abruptly here at Allen's Landing, at the northwest corner of downtown, where Jay is standing now. At night, the area is nearly deserted. There's civilization to the south. Concerts at the Johnson and Lindy Cole Arts Center, restaurants and bars open near Jones Hall and the Alley Theatre. But the view from Allen's Landing is grim. There are thick, unkempt weeds choked up on the banks of the water, crawling up the cement pilings that hold Main Street overhead, and save for a dim yellow bulb at the foot of a small wooden pier, Allen's Landing is complete blackness.

Jay stands beneath his city, staring at the raggedy boat, feeling a knot tighten in his throat, a familiar cinch at the neck, a feeling of always coming up short where his wife is concerned. He feels a sharp stab of anger. The guy on the phone lied to him. The guy on the phone is a liar. It feels good to outsource it, to put it on somebody else. When the truth is, there are thirty-five open case files on his desk, at least ten or twelve with court time pending; there wasn't time to plan anything else for Bernie's birthday, and more important, there hasn't been any money, not for months. He's waiting on a couple of slip-and-falls to pay big, but until then there's nothing coming in. When one of his clients, a guy who owes him money for some small-time probate work, said he had a brother or an uncle or somebody who runs boat tours up and down the bayou, Jay jumped at the chance. He got the whole thing comped. Just like the dinette set he and Bernie eat off of every night. Just like his wife's car, which has been on cement blocks in Petey's Garage since April. Jay shakes his head in disgust. Here he is, a workingman with a degree, two, in fact, and, still he's taking handouts, living secondhand. He feels the anger again, and beneath it, its ugly cousin, shame.

He tucks the feelings away.

Anger, he knows, is a young man's game, something he long ago outgrew.

There's a man standing on the boat, near the head. He's thin and nearing seventy and wearing an ill-fitting pair of Wranglers. There are tight gray curls poking out of his nylon baseball cap, the words BROTHERHOOD OF LONGSHOREMEN, LOCAL 116, smudged with dirt and grease. He's sucking on the end of a brown cigarette. The old man nods in Jay's direction, tipping the bill of his cap.

Jay reaches for his wife's hand.

"I am not getting on that thing." She tries to fold her arms across her chest to make the point, but her growing belly is not where it used to be or even where it was last week. Her arms barely reach across the front of her body.

"Come on," he says. "You got the man waiting now."

"I ain't thinking about that man."

Jay tugs on her hand, feels her give just the tiniest bit. "Come on."

Bernie makes a whistling sound through her teeth, barely audible, which Jay hears and recognizes at once. It's meant to signal her thinning patience. Still, she takes his hand, scooting to the edge of her seat, letting Jay help her out of the car. Once she's up and on her feet, he reaches into the backseat, pulling out a shoe box full of cassette tapes and eight tracks and tucking it under his arm. Bernie is watching everything, studying his every move. Jay takes her arm, leading her to the edge of the small pier. It sags and creaks beneath their weight, Bernie carrying an extra thirty pounds on her tiny frame these days. The old man in the baseball cap puts one cowboy boot on a rotted plank of wood that bridges the barge to the pier and flicks his cigarette over the side of the boat. Jay watches it fall into the water, which is black, like oil. It's impossible to tell how deep the bayou is, how far to the bottom. Jay squeezes his wife's hand, reluctant to turn her over to the old man, who is reaching a hand over the side of the boat, waiting for Bernie to take her first step. "You Jimmy?" Jay asks him.

"Naw, Jimmy ain't coming."

"Who are you?"

"Jimmy's cousin."

Jay nods, as if he were expecting this all along, as if being Jimmy's cousin is an acceptable credential for a boat's captain, all the identification a person would ever need. He doesn't want -Bernie to see his concern. He doesn't want her to march back to the car. The old man takes Bernie's hand and gently guides her onto the boat's deck, leading her and Jay to the cabin door. He keeps close by Bernie's side, making sure she doesn't trip or miss a step, and Jay feels a sudden, unexpected softness for Jimmy's cousin. He nods at the old man's cap, making small talk. "You union?" he asks. The old man shoots a quick glance in Jay's direction, taking in his clean shave, the pressed clothes and dress shoes, and the smooth hands, nary a scratch on them. "What you know about it?"

There's a lot Jay knows, more than his clothes explain. But the question, here and now, is not worth his time. He concentrates on the floor in front of him, sidestepping a dirty puddle of water pooling under an AC unit stuck in the cabin's window, thinking how easy it would be for someone to slip and fall. He follows a step or two behind his wife, watching as she pauses at the entrance to the cabin. It's black on the other side, and she waits for Jay to go in first.

He takes the lead, stepping over the threshold.

Black Water Rising
A Novel
. Copyright © by Attica Locke. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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What People are saying about this

George Pelecanos
Black Water Rising is a stylish, involving literary thriller with a strong emphasis on human politics and character. An auspicious debut from Attica Locke.”
Sarah Weinman
“This debut thriller charges out of the gate, boldly establishing Locke as a name to look out for in years to come.”
James Ellroy
“What a ride! Black Water Rising is a superlative debut; a wonderful treatise on the Texas 1980s; the best bad town novel in some time. Attica Locke is a stand-out in every imperative-young-writer way.”

Meet the Author

Attica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was shortlisted for the UK's Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.

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