Friday, August 31, 2012

Review of "Hell or High Water" [71]

Hell or High Water: A Novel by Joy Castro
Thomas Dunne Books, ISBN 978-1250004574
July 19, 2012, 352 pages

Nola Céspedes, is an ambitious young woman, not content to be writing puff pieces and community news stories for the New Orleans newspaper, the Times-Picayune. So when she gets assigned the job to do a story about what happened to all the register sex offenders in the area after Katrina, many of who disappeared off the rolls, she is very excited. This is a story she can sink her teeth into, a story that can make a difference. And a story that will touch much, much closer to home, to Nola herself, than we have any idea at first.

I think there are few places that are more ideal as a setting for a rather creepy thriller than New Orleans. The atmosphere, like the humidity, is so thick you can cut it with a knife and it is a city with a history, both recent and past that is full of good times and terrible tragedy, perfect for a story full of good and evil.
And Nola is a great character, one I certainly would not mind seeing again in another book. The author presents her as a very real person and while not quite likable, especially at the book's beginning, she is always interesting. She is self destructive, often putting herself in the dangerous situations, with sexual habit one might consider pathological and often not the nicest friend or co-worker.  I think she has a lot more depth she can share with us, maybe a continuation of some of the things we learned about in this book and that is a good and interesting thing. There are a number of other good characters in the book as well, not the least of which is her mother, although the one surprise revealed about her, I must say, seemed rather gratuitous. It was interesting, I will give it that! did hear the 'but' coming, didn't you?
But, there is one think about this book which almost ruined it for me. Almost, if not quite.
It is the preachiness. I hate preachiness in a book.
I understand there are things many authors may want to say, opinions about a number of topics that they want to work into their creation.
As a suggestion, one word..subtle. Subtle.
If I notice you preaching, you went too far and in this book, the author goes too far. Many times. About what, you ask? Well, you name it. Poverty, race relations, the failure of government in dealing with Katrina, US politics, how sex offenders are dealt with, the destruction of the salt marshes...lectures worked into the dialogue with all too frequent regularity, way too heavy handed. George Bush...really? Really? And please, no more statistics, please!
And then there were the 'Sex In The City'-like weekly meeting with her girlfriends, the tone of which seemed at odds with the nature of the story. And honestly, at times I did not understand why they were all friends. OK, that sort of got all tied in at the very end, but still I found that part of the book rather jarring.

In the end, I had some mixed felling about this book.
I think Castro has a lot of potential as a writer, as a story teller, and this book had a pretty good story to tell in a pretty good way. But, while this was a rather enjoyable book, a pretty good book, I think it did not quite reach it's full potential. I hope to see more, even better, from Joy Castro in the future.

My thanks to Amazon Vine for a review copy of this book.


  1. I don't like preaching in a book either. I also question the reasoning behind naming a character in N'awlins Nola. I'll have to think about this book.

    1. She gives an explanation in the book for that..which I forget, but I can certainly see your point.

  2. Like your review of this book, which, unsurprisingly, is very similar to my own impression! I would ask you to review my upcoming novel, but I don't think it would be to your taste. Good review.

    1. Well, according to your website, it is not finished yet...something about cat

  3. Like Kathy mentioned, the first thing I noticed was her name. Kinda over the top. I love New Orleans as the setting for just about any book, and I've read a bunch that took place there. No matter if it is a vampire novel, a mystery, or a romance, it just works. But the preaching. Ugh. You have to be a little more subtle if you want to wedge your way into my crowded, opinionated brain.

  4. Not a fan of preachy books - especially on so many topics. Sheesh, I can understand one thing an author is passionate about but not that many things!


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