Wednesday, July 7, 2010

What the Book Club Read this Week--A Great and Powerful Thriller from Attica Locke

As you may have noticed, most of my reading time is spent on not-yet-published books or books in advance of Boswell events. One of the nice things about our in-store book club is that I get a second chance on a title I missed during the traditional bookseller push of 2-4 months before pub date. Two months is when the Indie Bound nominations are due. Periodically I’ll get a request to read a bound manuscript (or more recently, a pdf file); the publisher is hoping I’ll like the book enough to give them a quote to use with other booksellers in the advance edition.

Blah, blah, blah, you've heard this all before, but how else do I introduce my book club selection roundup?

This week our book club read Black Water Rising, a first novel by Attica Locke. It’s a thriller, with numerous references to Dennis Lehane, Greg Iles, and Scott Turow. Daniel choose a thriller for the in-store lit group? What gives?

But as soon as you start reading Black Water Rising, which by the way, was shortlisted for an Edgar and named one of the top books of the year by the Los Angeles Times, you know it’s not an ordinary thriller. The writing is so sharp, the characters are so developed—there’s nothing sloppy about it, no staccato dialogue, no “this feels like a rewritten screenplay.” Hey, maybe it is a rewritten screenplay. But more likely, Locke decided she was absolutely not going to write a movie at all, like David Benioff’s City of Thieves.

The story revolves around Jay Porter, a struggling lawyer who only seems to get cheapo lawsuit cases or earnest pro bono work with no payoff. He’s left behind his life as a student activist, and lost some friends in the process. On a moonlit birthday cruise for his wife on the Buffalo Bayou (well, more like hot links and grape soda on something not much nicer than a barge), they hear a woman’s scream. Do they help? The answer has serious repercussions.

I’ve been pushing the book since it was in hardcover, and both our hardcover and paperback sales were respectable. I’m always looking for top-notch writing , and literary fiction by African Americans is underrepresented in the marketplace, making it stand out from the pack. (This is a thriller, but it is most definitely literary). I've been using many of the bookseller recommendations I saw for Locke's novel to make my case.

It was great to discuss this book in book club. There was some quibbling about some of the female characters, and some questions about whether Locke conceived of the story as a series or not. It's my speculation that some of the openness of the story was left for a sequel. That's part of my problem with mystery series--the holes in the story are not conceptual, but market be analyzed in book's 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

One hole that was definitely missed was the essay, "Attica Locke on Black Water Rising" that appeared in my advance reader's edition. It so put the story in perspective, and would have been great as a P.S. feature, so common in Harper Perennial paperback editions. Oddly enough, for a book that was shortlisted for the esteemed Orange Prize, there was no P.S. reader's guide, and that's a mystery to me.

Our next selection is Sarah Waters novel, The Little Stranger. It’s a ghost story with time. Will Daniel’s flirtations with genre never end?

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