Black Water Rising

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Overview

Writing in the tradition of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles, Attica Locke, a powerful new voice in American fiction, delivers a brilliant debut thriller that readers will not soon forget.

Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl and he runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. But he's long since made peace with not living the American Dream and carefully tucked away his ...

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Black Water Rising

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Overview

Writing in the tradition of Dennis Lehane and Greg Iles, Attica Locke, a powerful new voice in American fiction, delivers a brilliant debut thriller that readers will not soon forget.

Jay Porter is hardly the lawyer he set out to be. His most promising client is a low-rent call girl and he runs his fledgling law practice out of a dingy strip mall. But he's long since made peace with not living the American Dream and carefully tucked away his darkest sins: the guns, the FBI file, the trial that nearly destroyed him.

Houston, Texas, 1981. It is here that Jay believes he can make a fresh start. That is, until the night in a boat out on the bayou when he impulsively saves a woman from drowning—and opens a Pandora's box. Her secrets put Jay in danger, ensnaring him in a murder investigation that could cost him his practice, his family, and even his life. But before he can get to the bottom of a tangled mystery that reaches into the upper echelons of Houston's corporate power brokers, Jay must confront the demons of his past.

With pacing that captures the reader from the first scene through an exhilarating climax, Black Water Rising marks the arrival of an electrifying new talent.

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Editorial Reviews

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).
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.”
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”
New York Times
“This is the first novel by Locke, a screenwriter; it is, Charles McGrath said in The Times, ‘even better’ than the slick book its author set out to write.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
BookPage
“Black Water Rising is an excellent book by any measure, but as a debut, it is nothing short of astonishing.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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 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.”
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.”
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.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061735868
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/9/2009
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Attica Locke

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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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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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3
( 21 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 8, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    This is a terrific historical legal thriller

    In 1981 Houston, black attorney Jay Porter has a lot of information on a recent homicide, but has several reasons not to share his knowledge with the cops. Besides not trusting the police, an offshoot of growing up in the city's slums, Porter knows if he speaks up he goes under the spotlight, and he has a lot to hide. Back when he was nineteen in 1970 he was on trial for inciting a riot and for conspiracy to commit murder of a federal agent; he knows he was fortunate that there was a juror who lived near his future father-in-law's church. He didn't even know Bernie who is now his wife or her dad Reverend Boykins at that time, but they and his flock were there for him. He wants his felonious history to remain concealed and a tryst with Mayor Cynthia Maddox to stay secret as he is beginning to make it in the middle class and wants the best for his wife and their new child.

    On the other hand, Porter also realizes by his silence, an innocent man is being condemned. Although his conscience bothers him, he weighs being the Good Samaritan against the impact on his family and his career.-------------


    This is a terrific historical legal thriller that brings to life Houston in 1981 as the civil rights movement remains strong but not quite as effective as it had been. Jay is a fabulous lead character as he decides to let the innocent dupe take the fall rather than challenge the city's powerful, but each time he shaves his conscience bothers him. Although too many subplots that help anchor time and place take away from the main theme, sub-genre fans will enjoy this strong character driven tale as Jay has nothing to lose materially with silence, but everything to lose with speaking out.---------

    Harriet Klausner

    10 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Strong characters. Complex relationships. Compelling story. Stel

    Strong characters. Complex relationships. Compelling story. Stellar prose. My favorite new author. I have no idea where some of these reader-reviewers are coming from, but here's where I am coming from: Some of my favorite authors are Michael Connelly, Walter Mosley, Elmore Leonard, and Dennis Lehane, to name a few. Locke is now on my list as well. If you dig their writing, you will dig hers. Black Water Rising is a terrific read. The voices ring true, the plot is solid, the story is compelling, and the ending satisfies. Mystery, action, intrigue, humanity-it's all there. Most importantly, the writing is fantastic. It's all about the words baby, and this woman can write. I can't wait to read The Cutting Season. I, for one, look forward to many more Attica Locke novels in the years to come.   

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 18, 2012

    I loved this book! I could not put it down...staying up half th

    I loved this book! I could not put it down...staying up half the night to finish it. The author's knowledge of that period of time was amazingly accurate and her character development was great. Set in 1981 Houston, Jay Porter is a struggling attorney who has too many "ambulance" cases that won't amount to a hill of beans in payment to help his law office. He has become what he most feared...a person who "goes along to get along". Never rising above his emotional and financial poverty to find his true character. That is until he decides to take his wife, "B", on a boat ride for dinner to celebrate her birthday. The boat was pretty awful in it's "character" also but the night was to be the most important night in Jay Porter's life, being a witness to a homicide. One that would lead him on the road to self-discovery and finding his true inner character was not the person he thought himself to be but one that could raise his head and be proud of the man he became. You have to read this to find out more. It truly is a wonderful first book for Attica Locke. I can't wait to read her second novel "The Cutting Season".

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    Water moves fast but book does not

    I found it slow going.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 3, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    dont bother

    The story is very slow. the scenes are not exciting. adding history to fiction does not have to be soo boring... Dont bother to read this book unless you are looking for some good sleep. If you want a little history with your fiction try Beverly Jenkins

    3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2012

    Wish I hadn't wasted my time........didn't care about the charac

    Wish I hadn't wasted my time........didn't care about the characters and was VERY slow

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 22, 2012

    Didn't enjoy it

    The book was a very slow read for me. Didn't like the ending, it just left you there.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2012

    enjoyable read.

    This is set in the south so there is a laid backness to the characters. It is an enjoyable mystery.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 5, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Pass on this one

    I couldn't get off into the story. I kept trying to stay with the story, but ended up putting the book down. I couldn't even get to halfway the book. Real snoozer.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    Brillant Read

    This is an amazing story with a complex and real leading character driving the story. Having read her other book the Cutting Season I was excited to read this book and was not disappointed.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 12, 2014

    The book reminded me of A Time to Kill by John Grisham. I could

    The book reminded me of A Time to Kill by John Grisham. I could visually see Denzel Washington as Jay Porter. The story followed the same pattern as all the rest of the lawyer mysteries, with the family of the lawyer threatened by the "bad" man. The language and setting flowed as well as the muddy river waters. So many points or stories were left unresolved. I actually finished the book as the momentum picked up speed as the book progressed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 1, 2013

    FreedomSign

    Pads in

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2013

    Cat

    What is your bidfing master?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2013

    Stupi

    This is the stupidest book i have ever read in my life

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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