Thursday, June 22, 2017
June 22, 2017: Mysterious Beach Reads: Attica Locke
[For this year’s installment in my annual Beach Reads series, I wanted to focus on mystery authors and novels about which I’ve previously blogged in this space. Leading up a new post and author on Friday, and then one of my favorite crowd-sourced posts of the year—so add your Beach Read suggestions in comments, please!]
On the wonderful first two novels by a new favorite author.
Attica Locke’s debut novel, Black Water Rising (2009), was the best book I read in 2014. I shouldn’t have been surprised, as it was shared with me by my favorite writer and book-recommender. But while I knew that meant it would be a good read, I was expecting just that: an entertaining and well-done mystery novel (which would have been more than enough, to be clear). And Black Water Rising is a hell of a lot more than that—I’m not going to spoil any of its particulars here, but will simply say that the book is not only a great mystery and thriller, but also a multi-generational historical novel (one with a lot to say about both the 1980s and the 1960s), a socially realistic depiction of issues such as race, labor, and the rise of the oil industry in Houston and the South, a potent and moving portrayal of family and parenting, and a lot more besides. If you want to know the rest, you know what LeVar Burton and his kid reviewers would tell you to do!
I just got Locke’s second novel, The Cutting Season (2012), as a holiday present, and I haven’t had a chance to finish it yet (too busy writing and scheduling future blog posts before the new semester begins, natch). [UPDATE: I subsequently finished Cutting and it was just as fun and impressive as I predicted it would be.] But I can tell you for sure that no matter how it ends, Cutting Season retains all those elements and adds the histories and legacies of slavery for good measure; the novel reads like a combination of Black Water Rising and David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident (1981), one of my favorite American novels of all time. I would have said it was impossible for Locke to improve upon Black Water, but it seems clear to me that she has indeed taken a significant step forward, engaging more broadly and deeply with American history and identity without losing a bit of what makes her books so engaging and compelling.
Locke’s third novel, Pleasantville, is due out this coming April [UPDATE: I subsequently read and loved Pleasantville as well, and blogged about it here], and is apparently a direct sequel to Black Water Rising, featuring its lawyer protagonist Jay Porter in a mystery set fifteen years after the end of that prior book (slight but not hugely significant spoilers for Black Water at that link). I’m excited to see where Locke takes Jay this time, and what she might be adding to her repertoire with this next book. But at this point, I also have to agree with Dennis Lehane: “I’d probably read the phone book if her name were on the spine.” When I find an author about whom I feel that way, well, that’s one of the things I love best about reading and culture.
Last mysterious read tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other Beach Read nominees, mysterious or otherwise, you’d share?