Friday, August 10, 2012

Hell or High Water by Joy Castro

Nola Cespedes may finally get her break when her boss at the Times-Picayune assigns her a feature story. When Nola hears the actual assignment, though, she's more than a little apprehensive: After Katrina, a number of sex offenders vanished off the map. The paper wants a piece covering locals' thoughts and perspectives on the issue as well as that of convicted sex offenders still living in the city. While Nola would rather do just about anything than interview possibly violent pervs, she knows it's her best shot in making a name for herself and leaving New Orleans behind. Almost simultaneously, news of a kidnapping is making its way through the Crescent City. Connections are made to two recent murders and Nola suspects that it could make a great parallel to her own story.

Joy Castro's plot is really smart but much too complicated to easily sum up. There are a number of threads to the story: Nola's assignment, effects of Katrina, New Orleans itself, the kidnapping, Nola's personal life -- all of it comes together in a somewhat surprising way by the time the story wraps up. In this, Castro has shown herself to be a truly master plotter!

I also loved Nola. She's abrasive and a little off putting in her attitudes and actions, but getting to know her through the book shows that she's a layered character with a lot of things going on. In fact, obvious though it may be, Nola is a huge part of the story.

And finally there's New Orleans itself. Castro's New Orleans is not the happy "laissez les bons temps rouler" New Orleans that some folks focus on. Nor is it a dark and criminally rank cesspool either. It's a pretty fair and accurate portrayal of the city. New Orleans seems to cause authors problems. I'm sure any city is like that for readers who are familiar with them. By that I mean coming across tons of descriptions that either don't do the city justice or are completely inaccurate. I've come across a lot of authors who truly love the cities they are writing about and those authors take care in presenting the city in a way that is fair and truthful. I feel that's what Castro has done here.

I think Hell or High Water is a fabulous thriller and would definitely recommend it to readers looking for a clever and intriguing read.

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