It’s 1981. Much of the country has embraced the Civil Rights Movement, but Texas has a slightly different attitude about it. Jay Porter spent a lot of his college days as an activist, along with the woman who is now the mayor of Houston. Those days of marches and rallies are far behind him, but the memories stick hard. He studied and went on to become an attorney before he realized that a black man in this city couldn’t make a good living practicing law. Now he and his wife, with their first baby on the way, are just squeaking by. “He, quite frankly, can’t afford his principles. He needs a win, a jackpot.”
But first he needs a nice gift for his wife’s birthday. He uses up a favor so that he and Bernie can spend the evening floating serenely on the bayou. The boat is a mess, the skipper is a seedy old guy, the weather is muggy, and Jay is thinking that it’s not going all that well. He soon finds out that he should have been happy with things as they were. Horrific screams pierce the night, followed by shots and the sound of someone crashing through the bushes. Like it or not, Jay and Bernie are embroiled in a nasty piece of business that he must find a way out of. Unfortunately, Jay has serious hesitations about going to the police. His past has a few worrisome blemishes. Maybe if he ignores it, it will just go away. But staying silent only puts him in deeper danger.
What Jay really doesn’t need is distractions from his meager workload. With a child due any minute, every dollar counts. But even if Jay wanted to let it go, what was set in motion that night on the river won’t let go of him. He calls in more favors and starts his own investigation, for by now the police are no longer an option. Too much has happened for him to explain what took him so long to come forward. Besides, are the people who are supposed to be helping him really on his side? And can he trust the cops?
As Jay fights feverishly to save his life --- and a few others --- a fight of another kind is heating up in Houston. The local longshoremen are threatening to strike, a move that will bring not only Texas to its knees, but quite possibly the entire nation. Somehow, this has become Jay’s responsibility. He’s not sure how, but his father-in-law asked him to help out and he has a hard time saying no to the reverend. If the strike goes forward, it promises to get ugly. In fact, there have already been some incidents in advance of a walk-out. Jay just wants peace back in his life.
In a desperate attempt to overcome his fears, Jay dredges up the strength and the will to confront his tormentors, surprising himself and those who would see him dead.
Attica Locke intertwines the history of the fight for equal rights with the mystery surrounding the night of Bernie’s birthday. Rich in local details and teeming with action, BLACK WATER RISING is sure to please thriller fans.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on December 22, 2010