A shortlisting for the Orange prize will have brought this, Attica Locke's debut, to a wider audience than its identity as a crime thriller might have expected. It is an above-average tale set in 1981, when racial tensions were at some height, and black lawyer Jay Porter is trying to practise, and make some money, in a poor part of Houston, Texas.
Having been involved in some violent anti-racism protests in his anger-fuelled youth (his father was beaten to death by white men just before Jay was born), and been rescued from a lengthy prison term, he is reluctant to get involved when a white woman he and his wife save from drowning becomes implicated in a murder. At the same time, his father-in-law wants his help for black union members being picked on by white union members.
Locke gives her central character not just a real back-story but also psychological depth and, refreshingly, doesn't isolate him too much from women, although she does suggest complications in his marriage. An attempt to steer clear of the well-worn clichés of the genre, while still adhering to the need for pace and plot resolution, gives this novel an undeniably superior status.