Review: Pleasantville by Attica Locke

9781781254097I 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.

Buy the book here…

Great Expectations – 2012 and Australian non-fiction

It’s only Tuesday, but it’s been a good week so far for Australian non-fiction and for those of us looking to get our hands on some great new books to read.

First off, the shortlist for the 2012 Indie Awards has been announced and it has highlight four of Australia’s best non-fiction books released in the last year, just in case you missed reading them. The Indie Awards recognise independent booksellers’ favourite Australian authors from the past 12 months in the fiction, non-fiction and children’s categories, with a special award for debut fiction. The category winners will be chosen by panels of readers and independent booksellers, and independent booksellers then vote on the ‘Book of the Year’ with the winners announced on 10 March at the Leading Edge Books conference.

Last year’s Book of the Year winner was Boomerang bestseller The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do. His adaptation for children, The Little Refugee (co-written with Suzanne Do), is nominated in this year’s Children’s category. You can see a full list on our blog, but here are the four non-fiction books picked out as  some of the best reads in the genre in 2011, and all are well worth picking up for your reading pleasure.

  • Worse Things Happen at Sea by William McInnes & Sarah Watt. This memoir is a charming, hilarious and touching tribute to family and everyday life, celebrating the simple things that make up the normal life of a family in the suburbs;  raising children, renovations that never end and the trials and joys of daily life and dog obedience classes.
  • Notebooks by Betty Churcher. Betty, who was recently on ABC’s “Hidden Treasures” presenting obscure and amazing items from National Gallery of Australia, has penned and sketched this gloriously illustrated book guide to her most beloved artworks.  Betty is justly famous for her knack for making art accessible and fascinating and this book, revealing the secrets in masterpieces such as those by Rembrandt, Manet, Vermeer and Cezanne, will captivate art novices and lovers alike.
  • After Words: Post Prime Ministerial Speeches by Paul Keating. Love him or hate him, there’s no doubting that Keating has a memorable way with words (his insults, for example, have their own website). This book of speeches are all his work and range over a huge range of topics from international relations to the role of the monarchy, to the current direction and future of Australian politics, economics and society, leaving the reader in no doubt that Keating is still a man with plenty to say and a stirring way of saying it.
  • A Private Life by Michael Kirby. Michael Kirby is a very public figure, known for his work as a judge, academic and former Justice of the High Court. This book offers a look at his private life, the challenges he faced both growing up as and coming out as gay and the convictions and relationships that have kept him going throughout his career and personal life. Kirby’s writing is warm and humourous and this memoir explores and entertains without navel-gazing.

If the highlighting of four of the best non-fiction books wasn’t reason enough to look forward to hitting the bookstores, a new annual prize promises to reward excellence in Australian science writing and make it easier to access. NewSouth Publishing has established a prize for the best short non-fiction piece on science written for a general audience; the Bragg UNSW Press Prize for Science Writing.  Named in honour of Australia’s first Nobel Laureates William Henry Bragg and his son William Lawrence Bragg, and supported by the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, all winning entries will be included in an anthology (The Best Australian Science Writing 2012) which will be published late in 2012.

Scientific books can get a bad rap for being impenetrable but, as any regular readers will know, there is plenty of wonderfully written, surprising and inspiring scientific writing out there. While this isn’t the first book that NewSouth have into this area (they published The Best Australian Science Writing 2011 in November last year) the establishment of an annual prize shows an ongoing commitment to the accessible in Australian Science writing that can only be a great thing for those of us who love to curl up with a good book that educates as it fascinates.

2012 has barely started, but I’m confident that it’s going to be a year with some seriously enjoyable Australian non-fiction to get into. What are you looking forward to getting your hands on?