TLC Tour: Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

The backstory: Attica Locke has managed to write a first novel that has been shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize (the winner will be named June 9), named a finalist for the 2010 Edgar Award (Best First Novel by an American Author), named a finalist for the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Award (Best Mystery/Thriller) and nominated for a 2010 NAACP Image Award. It's a first novel, a literary mystery, and it seems to be universally adored. I could not wait to read it, but I was worried it could not possibly measure up to my expectations; it surpassed them.

The basics: The novel is set in Houston in 1981. Jay Porter is a young African-American lawyer with a pregnant wife and very few many clients. Jay and his wife Bernadette help rescue a woman from drowning one night, and this seemingly good deed has far-reaching effects.

The verdict: Black Water Rising is a beautifully written novel. The setting is key, and the mystery shares the stage with an astute look at social justice, racism, activism, the federal government, oil and corporate greed. The first part of the novel opens slowly. It doesn't read like a thriller initially, but there was certainly mystery and intrigue from the opening pages. Once part two began, however, more of Jay's past and mindset are revealed to the reader, and Locke's story opens wide to deliver a thrilling journey. I consciously include few details in this review because this mystery unfolding is one of its greatest gifts. It doesn't fit a formula that many modern mysteries do. Read it. Enjoy it. Recommend it with spoiling it. It's a novel that gets better and better as it goes on, and it is at its best after you've read the last page. It's a smart, page-turning literary thriller packed with history and social intrigue. It's better than the best book I read last year. It's the best book I've read since American Wife, which is my favorite book, and the only book I've rated more than five stars.

Overall: I loved it. I adored it. I cannot shut up about its absolute brilliance, but I will, for I fear I will scare away readers convinced it can't be that good. I love it because it is wonderful, but it is above and beyond for me because of the subject matter. I have a fascination with the civil rights movement, modern U.S. history, racism, college students protesting and general discussion of social justice and liberalism. I realize these themes do not excite every reader as much as they excite me. Similarly, American Wife is my favorite book, but I understand why others don't love it as much as I do. I don't know that Black Water Rising has universal appeal, but there are enough literary elements to appeal to literary fiction lovers who don't typically read mysteries, and there's enough mystery to attract fans of mainstream mystery. Those who love literary fiction, modern history, social justice and mysteries (like me) will be in absolute heaven. I am eagerly awaiting the next novel by Attica Locke.

My favorite passage:
"Oppression was pandemic, like a cancer; wherever it existed, it would spread. And maybe justice could work the same way; maybe it could spread too. Which meant that the problems in Africa, say--poverty and the imperialism that created it--were as important as the problems here at home; they were actually one and the same." (page 204)
Orange reaction: Black Water Rising is the first Orange Prize shortlist book I've read, and I adored it. If I read it without knowing who wrote it, I wouldn't know it was a woman. This book represents the best of the Orange Prize; it's a wonderful novel that happens to be written by a woman. The main character is a man, and it's a mystery. It's certainly a darkhorse (although oddsmakers have it third most likely currently at 11/2). I'm thrilled it's included on the shortlist, and I imagine the political elements figured heavily into its inclusion.

Rating: 5 stars (it's the best mystery I've read since The Lost Witness by Robert Ellis, which was my favorite read of 2009, and it's better.)
Length: 427 pages
Publication date: June 1, 2009 (it's out in paperback now)
Source: I received this book for review from the publisher as part of a TLC Book Tour. Thank you!

As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you!


  1. Wow! This is the most positive review I've seen for this book. I'm planning to read it next week and I hope I enjoy it as much as you did.

  2. This sounds so good - I love books that make me think and teach me something.


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