Review

Black Water

by T. Jefferson Parker



One of the joys of reading is finding an author whose first book is
good but somewhat unheralded, whose popularity grows incrementally
at first with the publication of each new book, and then finds fame
--- and sometimes even fortune --- growing by gigantic leaps and
sumptuous bounds. I think that we can place T. Jefferson Parker on
this list of such authors with the publication of BLACK
WATER.

BLACK WATER is Parker's 10th novel. His previous, RED LIGHT, was
nominated for an Edgar award for best novel; last year's SILENT JOE
was as distinct and different from anything else you could name
that came out last year. BLACK WATER...well, you're going to have
BLACK WATER Velcroed to your fingers for a while. At least until
you finish reading it --- and possibly thereafter.

BLACK WATER is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of
which is the return of detective Merci Rayborn. Rayborn is a flawed
heroine, perfectly real; her conclusions in RED LIGHT, where she
wrongfully accused a fellow officer (and her lover) of murder, were
quite simply incorrect. It happens sometimes. In that case,
however, the results were disastrous. She picked herself up as best
she could and moved on. Rayborn is determined that she will never
again wrongly accuse a fellow police officer. Yet, everything in
her latest investigation makes it seem as if she's about to do just
that.

Parker's technique in BLACK WATER is quite interesting. The book
opens with the introduction of Archie And Gwen Wildcraft. Archie is
a young, handsome Orange County deputy on an upward career
trajectory; Gwen is a beautiful aspiring songwriter, rock singer,
and artist. We meet them as they are returning home from a surprise
birthday party for Gwen. We watch the initiation of some outdoor
lovemaking, we follow them home, we tuck them in bed. We are there
when they are awakened by a rock flying through their living room
window and we watch while Archie leads his wife to their bathroom,
closes the door and goes outside to see what happened. We are led
up to the moment at which Archie is attacked. And then...

When we next encounter the Wildcrafts, Gwen is dead and Archie is
barely clinging to life from a gunshot wound to the head. And
though we know it is not so, we watch in horror as all of the
evidence points, reluctantly but unerringly, to a murder/attempted
suicide. The whole scenario feels wrong to Rayborn, and she even
works the events out as we witnessed them, or at least some of
them. The reader wants to scream through the pages at her, "Yes!
Yes!" when she guesses correctly. The evidence, however, is the
evidence. It is fascinating to watch Rayborn, impeded to some
extent by the occasional ghostly echoes of her past mistakes,
methodically investigate the victims and follow her instincts
regarding the case. It is equally as fascinating to watch
Wildcraft, hampered by the traumatic injury to his brain, slip in
and out of consciousness, grasping and losing and grasping again at
the memories of his past and what happened on the night that his
world, as he knew it, abruptly came to an end. Parker, in the
meantime, keeps the suspense flowing almost from the first page.
You know and I know, he tells the reader, who didn't do it. Should
we tell everyone else in the book? And who did do it? These are the
questions to be answered in BLACK WATER and in time. But only
just.

Parker has with BLACK WATER met and sustained the promise of the
greatness hinted at in SILENT JOE and his previous novels. This is
yet another impressive work from an author who is quietly but
forcefully demonstrating a talent many wish for but few truly
possess.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011

Black Water
by T. Jefferson Parker

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 078686804X
  • ISBN-13: 9780786868049