Black Water Rising by Attica Locke (2009, 427 pgs)
I have good news and I have bad news.
The good news first: I just finished Attica Locke’s first novel, Black Water Rising, and I must say that I loved it!
The bad news: It took 200+ pages to to really get good, which greatly affected this review.
The story starts in the early 80s. Jay, a lawyer and former Black Power freedom fighter living in Houston, is treating his pregnant wife to a somewhat romantic birthday ride on the murky bayou, when the couple and their boat captain hear gunshots in the distance and spot a body tumbling into the water. Jay’s wife insists that they rescue who ever it is who is in the water, which starts off a series of events that spell out D-A-N-G-E-R at every turn. Missing guns. A mysterious Black truck. Thousands of dollars. Threats to his wife’s safety. Suddenly Jay’s world is turned upside down.
Then there is a possibility of a Black labor strike at the Port of Houston which threatens to damage an economy heavily supported by oil. Jay’s preacher father-in-law and Kwame, a former comrade in the struggle, begin pressuring Jay to represent their union on the front lines (he used to be a freedom rider, so it’s his duty to help, right?), and also use his mysterious relationship with the first female mayor of Houston to their advantage. Throw in tense race relations, murder, mistaken identity, corrupt oil companies and a smattering of Jay’s former life as a supporter of African liberation on the campus of University of Houston, and you have a very interesting, edge of your seat story.
BUT…the story took far too long to develop. Just to give you an idea of how slow the beginning was: it took me 11 days to get thru the first 250 pages. It took two to get through the last 200. It wasn’t until after I was past the halfway mark that the story began to get so good that I couldn’t put it down.
I understand though, that Locke was building a story, a bridge if you will, which resulted in a spectacular ending. She has an eye for detail (it is very obvious that her strength is in script writing), so much so, that I could literally picture many of the scenes on tv or in a movie. I just wish the beginning had been a teeny bit more engaging. I fear that readers could easily give up on this book (as a few people revealed to me when they saw my updates on Goodreads) and end up missing out on an intelligent historical crime thriller.
Though the story was slow, the ending made up for it, so much so that I am looking forward to Locke’s next novel.
I’d recommend this to anyone into suspense, mysteries, or crime thrillers. Also those who love historical fiction, especially focusing on Houston, and/or the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. Those who have a lot of patience and time to give to story development, may enjoy this as well :)