A debut thriller about an African-American lawyer with some difficult clients and a radical past.
Jay Porter smokes too many Newports; he’s short on money; his wife Bernie is pregnant; and the slip-and-fall lawsuits that bolster his practice have nearly dried up as Houston heads from boom to bust in 1981. When he rescues a woman from a bayou after gunshots ring out, Jay keeps mum to the cops. His own tangles with “the Man” haunt him: At 19, only a close-call acquittal saved him from going to prison on a charge of helping to kill a federal agent. From his radical past, Jay is left with wariness and memories of a romance with white revolutionary Cynthia Maddox, who turns up years later as Houston’s mayor and with whom he reconnects while representing a hooker in a civil case against an oil magnate. Jay needs the mayor’s help to protect striking black union members who have come to him after being assaulted by their white counterparts. The book’s three intersecting story lines promise nothing but trouble. The rescued woman is either a victim, a killer or a pawn in a scheme to damage Jay; the hooker could bring down the oilman; and the strike could bankrupt Houston. Jay, pulled into this vortex, also struggles with grim memories of his dad fatally beaten by rednecks and Black Panther allies decimated by the FBI.
Locke expertly etches a portrait of her anxiety-ridden protagonist, and she animates the complex plot with the assurance of a practiced screenwriter (she’s currently working on an HBO series about civil rights).