june-covers-023By Attica Locke
Harper Collins, $25.99, 448 pages

Race relations and murder collide in Black Water Rising, a crackling thriller from Attica Locke. Set in Houston, circa 1981, Locke’s debut novel centers around Jay Porter, a struggling black attorney trying to distance himself from his civil rights movement past.

One night on the bayou, Jay and his pregnant wife hear a woman’s screams, followed by gunshots. Debating whether or not to get involved, valor wins out, and Jay ends up rescuing the woman from the murky waters, a decision with dire consequences. Before long, the young lawyer finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy that includes hush money, a mysterious man in a black Ford, and death threats.

Black Water Rising shines most when it follows the present-day mystery at the heart of the story. Locke’s writing is sharp and authentic; you can practically hear the Southern drawl emanating off the page. Unfortunately, it bogs down with an unnecessary subplot involving a union strike and wastes too much time on dialogue from Jay’s past. It’s hard to fault Locke for wanting to write a novel with a message; if anything, the book is too ambitious, but it hints at good things to come from a writer we’ll need to keep an eye on.

Reviewed by Mark Petruska