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Black Water Rising: A Novel Hardcover – June 9, 2009

3.7 out of 5 stars 177 customer reviews
Book 1 of 2 in the Jay Porter Series

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Editorial Reviews

From 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)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Black Water Rising is an engrossing, complex, and cinematic novel about ethics and convictions, race relations, and one man's personal journey. Mixing social commentary and crime, Locke tells a compelling story about Jay's uneasy fight for justice; a few critics noted that Locke does for Houston what Dennis Lehane does for working-class Boston. While most reviewers thought that the characters could well handle the numerous subplots and back stories, the New York Times and Washington Post disagreed, though the former acknowledged the relevance of exploring Jay's activist college years. But clearly, this debut novel impressed almost all, with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel describing it as "one of the year's best debuts" and the Dallas Morning News calling Locke "destined for literary stardom."

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061735868
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061735868
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (177 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,093,572 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Beverly Jackson VINE VOICE on June 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In her debut novel, Black Water Rising, Attica Locke gives us a literary thriller that grabs us from the opening page to the last page. It is Houston, Texas 1981 and Jay Porter, a struggling lawyer without two pennies to rub together, is about to take his pregnant wife on a boat ride on the bayou as a birthday celebration. As if they both have foresight of what is to come, each is hesitant for their own reasons on whether they should take this trip. Jay wonders if this will meet his wife's expectations. Bernie, his wife, wonders if the boat will survive the trip but she does not want her husband to be disappointed. But those thoughts are thrown aside as Jay pulls a drowning woman out of the water. He knows this is the right thing to do, but his inner voice and past tells him, he should not have gotten involved with a white woman running away from the black side of town. After leaving the woman on the police station steps, Jay and Bernie go home. But Jay cannot leave well enough alone, and wants to know more about this woman and as each clue he uncovers brings danger to him and his family, Jay wonders if he can turn away before he is drawn back into his past which he was barely able to survive.

This book provides us with a wonderful treat as besides the mystery story to be solved, there is the story of how Jay became the person that he is. It is a story about young people taking charge to bring about social change in the 1970s and how the establishment used their power to make sure that this change did not happen. This storyline is blended seamlessly with the mystery story and shows us that while things change the more things remain the same. The author did an excellent job of presenting time and location.
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Format: Hardcover
Jay Porter is struggling. He lives in a cramped little apartment with his pregnant wife, a woman he has known since she was thirteen years old, and he wonders if they can ever afford a better home. Porter, a player during the Black Power movement of the 1960s, is now a lawyer with a cheap, strip mall office and an incompetent secretary he can just afford. His clients are walk-ins and referrals who can barely afford to pay him at all, much less an amount that would offer Porter a decent profit for his work. So, when one of those clients arranges a free boat ride down Houston's Buffalo Bayou in lieu of a cash payment, Porter accepts the deal and decides to celebrate his wife's birthday on the little boat.

As the boat makes its way through the heart of downtown Houston in near total darkness, the Porters and the boat's captain are startled by a woman's desperate screams for help. It is impossible to see the woman or her attacker from the boat but, as they are paused to listen, the three soon hear the sounds of someone rolling down the bayou's steep bank and splashing into the water. Porter manages to get the barely breathing woman into the boat but, because he fears getting involved in the problems of this white woman, he brings her to the police station's front door and slips away before anyone can see him or get his name.

It is only when he sees the story in the newspaper that Porter learns that the woman he rescued may not have been a victim at all - she might, instead, be a murderer. Still reluctant to get involved, Porter only learns how much trouble he is in when a stranger offers to pay him for his silence about what he saw and heard the night of the murder. The man leaves Porter with two choices: take the money and remain silent or be shut up for good.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I didn't find the "literary thriller" that I expected based on the glowing reports by paid critics and several reviewers here, `Black Water Rising' is a good, no, very good political drama. The story is rich in the history of the turbulent 70s through the booming 80s in Houston. And, Locke both draws a visual map of the city and develops a complex protagonist in Jay Porter. Alas, after the vividly portrayed beginning with a birthday celebration that is interrupted by Jay Porter's saving a stranger in distress, the story drags until nearly the middle of the book. Then, as this reader was set to labor through a mediocre book, the momentum quickly picks up with a realistic conversation between Jay and Stokely Carmichael that captures the cadence and syntax of the well-known social activist. The best written scene follows with an accurate picture of a campus protest rally that turns into a melee. At this point, Locke starts to show her screenwriting chops by invigorating the dialogue and action. When Ainsley, the character that takes his case all the way to Washington, talks about the mine's closing and developers buying up the land, it's like reading recent headlines about the financial schemes that brought our economy to the edge. An especial strength of the writing is how Locke fixes the time and place with details of the period, e.g., public conduct (indoors, the union men tucked their work caps under their arms), technology (the rotary phone) and music (by Otis Redding, the Dells, et al.). In recovering the pace that she started in the beginning, the writer finally delivers the promised suspense. By the end of the story, the multiple plotlines have been tied together. However, too much is left unresolved and the drama comes to an abrupt end.

Update: After reading Locke's book again, I've boosted my rating. It's a 4-star work.
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