Title: Hell or High Water
Author: Joy Castro
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Nola Cespedes is a reporter for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, and she wants to stop reporting on fluff. The only way she can do that? Take on a piece examining pedophiles and rapists. The article doesn’t sit well with Nola, as just talking to some of these offenders on the phone creeps her out, but she’s determined to do it. As Nola begins immersing herself in the story, she wonders if there’s a connection between the men she’s interviewing and the recent kidnapping of a tourist.
Castro brings present day, post-Katrina New Orleans to life for the reader in Hell or High Water. From the continuing, molasses-slow recovery to the skyrocketing crime rate, Castro tells it like it is, with the knowledge of an insider. Nola muses often on the racial divide in New Orleans and discusses the politics of different communities. It’s very interesting commentary and provides a rich, complex background for the story.
Nola’s not your typical main character. She talks tough, but she’s unsure of herself on the inside. She has commitment issues, to the point where she’d rather have a quickie than try out any real relationship. She doesn’t open up to those around her because her life experiences have damaged her, left her empty inside. She finds the investigation into sex offenders incredibly disturbing and feels personally affected by what she discovers. Nola’s opinionated and quick to judge (harshly), but readers will appreciate her, for both her strengths and her flaws.
Through Nola, Castro provides very interesting commentary on the class divide. Though Nola’s friends claim they have much in common, she can’t help but remember she’s a poor kid from the projects, while they are all upper-middle-class to plain old upper-class. While some of Nola’s sensitivity stems from an inferiority complex, to be sure, she does make some very good points about how they know little of the grittier parts of New Orleans, sheltered by their parents’ money and their privileged upbringing.
It’s hard to classify Hell or High Water. It’s not really a mystery, though it does have some of those elements. What is for certain, though, is that it’s an absolutely gripping read. Readers will plow through the novel and will regret turning the last pages. The humid, dripping atmosphere of New Orleans only enhances the novel. Castro is a talented writer, and she makes sure her setting becomes an integral part of the story. It’s difficult to describe how truly wonderful Hell or High Water is, nor how well Castro captures her setting and characters.
Hell or High Water is one of those books where you are learning something new with every page turn – whether it’s about race relations, the dynamics of post-Katrina New Orleans, the city’s sordid history, or the profile of a sex offender, this book is teeming with interesting details and thoughtful commentary. Here’s hoping that Castro intends to turn this novel into a series, as Nola is just too great of a character for only one outing.