Black Water Rising – Attica Locke

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 Short listed for the Orange Prize 2010

Black Water Rising was the most controversial choice on the Orange short list this year. Everyone who had read the book was surprised by its inclusion on the list and having read it I can only agree with them.

Black Water Rising is a thriller, similar in style to those written by John Grisham, but much longer and more convoluted.

The book is set in Houston in the 1980s. It begins with a young black lawyer heading out on a boat trip. He hears gun shots and a scream and then sees a woman fall into the water. He rescues her, but in doing so becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

My problem with this book was that it didn’t have enough pace to be enjoyable as a thriller, but the writing was too light for it to properly investigate the numerous social and political problems raised.

There were some good sections, but these were connected by long, irrelevant side stories.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters in the book and found the addition of their back stories awkward.

The main theme of the book was racism, but I found the issue to be over emphasised – I like to be shown the problems, not told them. This book treated me as an idiot, repeatedly explaining how terrible things were. 

Overall I’m afraid this book frustrated me more than it entertained. Recommended to thriller lovers who don’t mind a slower pace of plot.

This was another book that divided opinion:

 I loved it. I adored it. I cannot shut up about its absolute brilliance… Nomad Reader

 I don’t think she’s quite got the hang of something…. Book Gazing

 I went into it thinking I was going to fall in love, and I just felt lukewarm like for it.  Wordsmithonia

…intelligent and unflinching storytelling…. Buried in Print


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32 Comments

  1. Amy says:

    I have to say, doesn’t sound like a very great read… haven’t read it, but am also surprised that it made the list.

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, I guess that depends on what type of book you like, but it wasn’t for me!

  2. Iris says:

    I have to agree with Amy. It sounds like it’d make a very disappointing read. Let’s hope it doesn’t win, because if I ever decide to read all the Orange Prize winners, I don’t think I’d want to pick up this book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Iris, LOL! I think Wolf Hall will easily win, but then I have no idea what those Orange judges were thinking this year!

    2. Carina says:

      I wasn’t a huge fan of it when I read it a couple weeks back, either, but also didn’t really hate it. It was sort of a “meh” kind of feeling when I reached the end.

      1. Jackie says:

        Carina, “meh” is a good word! It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t brilliant either. I think it would make a good film though.

  3. Sandy says:

    Side stories are tricky. I don’t mind them if they are engrossing, but often they are just a distraction. There are enough great thrillers out there that I will most likely pass on this one. I’m really wondering how it got nominated?

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I have no idea how it ended up on the short list! I’m not sure I’d agree there are loads of great thrillers out there – perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place (or perhaps I just don’t like thrillers!?) but I really struggle to find good ones.

  4. FleurFisher says:

    Now that is disappointing. I hoped that such an atypical shortlist book might be there because it was something very special, though I have to admit I picked it up and put it down again in the library.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, I had similar hopes – such a shame :-(

  5. Jessica says:

    You are really not having a huge amount of luck with the shortlist are you! I keep reading to see if there are any you do really like. Thrillers are something which I read very little of, like you say its hard to find really good ones of rather ones which I can get on with.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jessica, No – I’m having no luck with the Orange list this year! I’m really hoping that I’ll enjoy The Lacuna as the others haven’t been for me.

  6. Stujallen says:

    i got this on tbr pile had it since last year ,it was nice to see a genre book on the list as they do tend to get over looked on prizes like the orange ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stujallen, It is nice to see a genre book on a prize list – I wish a few more would creep onto them.

  7. I loved this one, but I know it’s definitely not a universal crowd pleaser. I happen to love thrillers, but this novel felt like a different sort of thriller, and I really appreciate the way it straddled genres. My husband and father are reading it soon, and I hope to find someone who agrees with my opinion! I likely would have read it regardless of its inclusion on the Orange shortlist, but it was refreshing to see a male narrator and a book I’ve only seen compared to male authors included in the Orange shortlist.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, It was nice to see such a ‘male’ book written by a woman. I hope that your husband and father enjoy it as much as you did.

  8. Jenners says:

    It does seem like an odd choice for a prize nomination.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I wish those judges would explain its inclusion.

  9. Lu says:

    I just put this book down and I think the best word to describe it is frustrating. There were moments when I absolutely loved it and moments when I despised it. There were times when the pace was fast and exciting and others where it dragged unnecessarily. Like Carrie, I think that it successfully will please readers of thrillers and people looking for a bit more, but it doesn’t quite pull it together to be totally successful. I think more importantly it shows what Attica Locke can do in the future – this is her debut novel and there were many times when I felt like I was reading a script. I think, if she continues to write novels, eventually she’ll be a writer to keep reading. I also don’t disagree with her inclusion on the Orange Prize list… what the prize requires is very simple, the best book written by a female author of any nationality, published in English. I think it was too flawed to win, but a very interesting and bold choice. Best book does not mean best literary fiction, in my opinion, and I think that the inclusion of an intelligent thriller is great.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, It is good to know that I’m not alone in finding this book frustrating.

      I agree with you about it being great to have genre books on a prize list, but didn’t feel this was the best example – there were too many flaws. What about wonderful books by Sophie Hannah or Tana French? I’m sure that there are a lot of wonderful female thriller writers out there and wonder why they have been overlooked?

  10. Violet says:

    I don’t mind a decent thriller, but it has to move along at a fast clip to keep me interested. This doesn’t sound very enticing…

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, If only I could find those decent thrillers…;-)

  11. Verity says:

    This is one of the ones I didn’t get to – not quite sure whether or not I’ll bother.

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, It would be interesting to know your thoughts on it, but I suspect you might find it frustrating too.

  12. Violet says:

    I’m not much into thrillers although I do like one once in a while. Sorry this was disappointing, looks like this isn’t for me either.

    1. Jackie says:

      Violet, At least you can cross this off your list ;-)

  13. Kathleen says:

    Well I do like thrillers but need the book to run at a good pace to keep me engaged so this one might not be for me?

    1. Jackie says:

      Kathleen, The pace of this book changes throughout. Some bits are very fast, but others really drag. It sounds as though this one isn’t for you.

  14. I love your honest reviews, Jackie.

    I admit I love crime and thriller books but they do have to be fast-paced or I can loose interest too. I haven’t even looked at this one yet or read the blurb but I am curious now; I quite often am after someone else hasn’t enjoyed it (does that make me strange? ;) )

    1. Jackie says:

      The Book Whisperer, I often think that negative reviews are the most helpful as they explain exactly what the book is like, rather than just random gushing that is nice but not very helpful. I know exactly what you mean and often pick up books after reading negative reviews – don’t worry it is very normal!!

  15. Thanks again for linking to my review, Jackie; this is another that I enjoyed more than you, I see. I like reading thrillers but rarely do so because I often feel let down (usually because characterization is sacrificed for convenience plot-wise); that definitely was not the case for me with this novel.

    I do think that “typical thriller readers” might find some of the richer aspects of Black Water Rising too slow for their liking, but I didn’t find the backstory or side stories irrelevant: the tangents revealed something to me (e.g. sometimes about motivation, sometimes about intention) that deepened the rest of the novel for me. Nor did I feel that the theme of injustice was overdone: it read as being rooted in the story for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      BuriedinPrint, It is good to know that you enjoyed this more than me – especially those side stories. Perhaps it is just my preconceptions about thrillers that made me annoyed whenever the main plot disappeared and I was forced to read about something else, when I just wanted to follow the main plot?

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