In post-Katrina New Orleans, Nola Céspedes is hoping for a meatier assignment from her editor at the Times-Picayune. When she gets it, she's both excited and scared. She's been tapped to investigate sex offenders: Has rehabilitation worked? Do these men have any kind of life after prison? And what happened to all those who slipped off the grid in the aftermath of the hurricane?
In the meantime, a tourist has gone missing, and Nola starts to take an almost obsessive interest in the case. Can her research for the newspaper article give her insights into the disappearance?
Joy Castro's Hell or High Water is part mystery, part psychological study of Nola, and part expose of a city in crisis. Of the three aspects of the novel, it's Nola's story that is the most intriguing. Nola's personality is complex, and she clearly has issues. The combination of her work, her secret behavior, and her public persona is eating away at her psyche. I needed to keep reading to find out how or if Nola finds resolution. Although I wasn't as focused on the missing woman as Nola was, I looked for clues and failed to guess who done it.
Castro's descriptions of the city from Nola's point of view are particularly impressive because, according to her bio, she's never lived there, although I believe her husband is a New Orleans native. On the other hand, I felt that Castro may have included too many statistics about sex offenders, or perhaps it was that there were long sections of facts, which pulled me out of the story. This information would have served the novel better if it had been spread out more or revealed in some other form (as part of several conversations, for example).
Fortunately that minor problem did not take away from the novel as a whole. Nola Céspedes is the type of character you root for. So I was pleased to read that Joy Castro is writing a follow-up to Hell or High Water. I'd love to know how Nola is doing.
Published by St. Martin's Press / Thomas Dunne Books, July 17, 2012
Source: Review (see review policy)
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