Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

This book is set in Houston Texas during the 1980s. While on a boat ride with his wife, the main character Jay hears gun shots and a scream and then sees a woman fall into the water. Jay rescues her, but in doing so becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

This book for me can be summed up in one infuriating sentence; ‘If he’d only gone to the police in the first place the whole thing could have been cleared up a lot quicker.’ This is literary what I kept repeating to myself every time Jay got himself in yet more trouble as his situation become more and more convoluted in a plot that seemed to involve everyone all the way up to the Mayor of Houston itself. No really, it goes up as far as the Mayor.

It would not be fair to just dismiss this book as a standard crime novel as there are other elements packed in there such as the civil rights movement, corruption in the oil industry and union strikes and despite all these plot elements the story is quite easy to follow. Unfortunately this also involved many secondary characters who were not fleshed out sufficiently; the motivation for the ‘bad guy’ for example is never fully explained and even Jay himself at times just seems to be there as a plot device.

While Jay runs around trying to get himself out of the mess he put himself in (if only he’d gone to the police) there are flashbacks to his life as a student when he was involved in the civil rights movement which included some jail time and the town Mayor. Yes that’s right, that pesky Mayor again who features quite a lot yet we learn little about her, except that everything seems to involve her at some point whether its some plot involving oil or Jays personal life.

I’m not entirely sure what the point of Jay’s flashbacks were aside from giving background on his relationship with the Mayor as they didn’t really connect with the main story. Yes, we got to see what Jay had achieved since his time as a student but we didn’t really need chapters and chapters of flashback to let the reader know that.
The author gives a great sense of the heavy and claustrophobic atmosphere of Houston and maybe fans of crime fiction looking for something slightly different may find this appealing. This was shortlisted for the Orange prize and does have its fans but unfortunately as you may have guessed, I didn’t like it.

Verdict: 2/5

Posted by Jess


  1. Not a book I enjoyed either. I'm glad someone else thought he should have gone straight to the police. thanks for a great review, I agree with what you had to say.

  2. I was on the fence about reading this one. With so many great books out there, I think I'll pass.

  3. ‘If he’d only gone to the police in the first place the whole thing could have been cleared up a lot quicker.’

    I've seen movies where this was how I felt, and I, too, couldn't get past this & so I hated it. For me, this is the worst type of error for a writer.

  4. Petty - I remember reading your review and thinking, 'oh no Ive already have a copy' completely agree with your review!

    Avid Read - well I dont think your life will benefit greatly by reading this book. Like you say, there are so many great books out there.

    Elizabeth - LOL yes Ive seen films like that too. I think maybe the reason he didnt go to the police was because as a black student he was arrested and therefore didnt trust police? But that wasn't clear if that was the case and beside he was found not guilty at his trial and he was not working as a lawyer. Either way it really annoyed me.

  5. Sorry to hear you did not enjoy this one more. I was thinking about it, but with so many other books, I may pass.

  6. "If he’d only gone to the police in the first place the whole thing could have been cleared up a lot quicker." LOL!! I couldn't agree more! I wasn't a big fan of this book either. It was OK, but I thought it was too long and didn't have that star quality I'd hope to see in an Orange short listed book.

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