Tuesday, April 14, 2015
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Is there anything quite so satisfying as a deftly plotted thriller with a morally complex character at its center?
Pleasantville is Attica Locke's third novel, following Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season. Locke has perfected her own distinct blend of the legal thriller with political and historical elements. And the framework supporting it all is a kind of moral awareness that makes Pleasantville more than just an entertainment, but also a thoughtful and deeply satisfying read.
In Locke's first novel, Black Water Rising, Jay Porter was a young lawyer with a struggling practice, a pregnant wife, and a past that weighed heavily on him. Set in Houston in 1981, Black Water Rising tells a rich and complex story; much of the novel's back story involves Jay Porter's past as a student involved in the black radical movement. Jay's struggles include the early death of his father at the hands of white men, and his own troubling experience with the criminal justice system. In her first novel Attica Locke creates in Jay Porter a character who the reader will come to see as complex, entirely human, and worthy of more than one novel. Pleasantville picks up fifteen years after Black Water Rising, and much has changed for Jay. He is renowned in Houston for his legal victory over Cole Oil, he is a father, and he is raising his two children alone. The Jay Porter of Pleasantville is more seasoned, but still morally complex and haunted.
I sped through Black Water Rising in a couple of days, and was eager to pick up Pleasantville. Locke's novel did not disappoint. She expertly weaves a tale of greed, political corruption, and racial tensions that provides the perfect backdrop for her legal thriller.
Pleasantville is set in 1996, and Locke makes references to both G.W. and H.W. Bush and their growing political dynasty. She creates a convoluted but convincing political backdrop for her thriller by setting it during a mayoral race in Houston, and she brings back Jay Porter's former lover (and betrayer) Cynthia Maddox, a character who had a pivotal role in Back Water Rising. In Pleasantville, a young girl disappears on the eve of an election. When she is found dead five days later, Jay Porter is unwillingly dragged into a court battle, just as he is trying to wrap up another case involving the traditionally black neighborhood of Pleasantville and a company whose chemical fire has harmed the neighborhood's residents.
Locke is expert at ratcheting up the suspense; Pleasantville kept my pulse racing with its menacing villains, break-ins, and chases. But what makes Pleasantville absorbing and satisfying is the relationships between characters, and the character of Jay Porter himself. Locke creates in Jay a man struggling with a devastating loss while trying to raise his ten-year-old son and his fifteen-year-old daughter. His desire to represent his client, a young black man wrongly accused of murder, is at times in conflict with his desire to keep his children safe. And the moral decisions Jay has to make are complex and troubling.
While the reader can enjoy Pleasantville without first reading Black Water Rising, I recommend that you treat yourself to both. Both books are tautly paced, totally involving, and expertly written. If you like Dennis Lehane's books, you would definitely like Pleasantville, which is comparable in its moral framework, characterization, and plotting to the best of Lehane.
Attica Lock has a website here: www.atticalocke.com
She is also on Facebook.