I used to love legal thrillers. They were the first crime books I got into when I was a teenager. There was a mystery but there was also an argument to made and refuted. Unlike other crime stories the legal thriller must get down to the bones of right and wrong, innocence and guilt. The good legal thriller shows that these waters are just as muddy and murky as out on the street. And when you add politics to the mix it gets even murkier.
Attica Locke announced herself as a writer to watch with Black Water Rising and in her new novel she returns to her main character, Jay Porter. Fifteen years on Jay has built his legal career on the massive payout he won against Cole Oil. Even though they have yet to pay Jay’s reputation has seen him take on other similar cases in Texas and Arkansas. But the recent death of his wife has left Jay shaken and changed his priorities on life and his legal career is now at the bottom of that list. All of which is about to change whether Jay wants it to or not.
Pleasantville has a long history in Houston. It was the first suburb opened up to African-American families after the Second World War and soon became an active voting block in the city’s elections. It has its own political power base led by Sam Hawthorne. Sam’s son, Axel is running for Mayor in what is promising to be a very close election. Pleasantville is once again at the center of fierce campaigning. When a young woman, apparently working for one of the campaigns, goes missing it sparks fears among Pleasantville’s residents as she is the third girl to go missing in recent years. When her body is found and Sam Hawthorne’s grandson is arrested, who also happens to be Axel’s campaign director, politics can’t help but become embroiled. All of which drags Jay Porter back into a courtroom.
This is a superb novel. Attica Locke blends the heated tension of city and suburban politics with the high drama of the courtroom and in doing so shows how easily distorted truth and justice can become. Politics is a tangled web at the best times of times but when big business, a small tight-knit community and money get involved it gets dangerous for all involved, especially the unwitting. And politics is ultimately about power and what people will do with it and the lengths they will go to hold on to it, no matter who gets in the way. Attica Locke tells the story in a way that is both gripping and personal and in doing so keeps you hooked to the final page and beyond.