'Hell or High Water' By Joy Castro. Thomas Dunne Books, 340 pages, $25.99
The laborious act of physical rebuilding and personal recovery is a scintillating theme in Joy Castro's compelling mystery fiction debut. The physical rebuilding in "Hell or High Water" is in New Orleans. But equally as important to this engrossing story is the personal growth and rebounding of Nola Céspedes, a young reporter whose chance to prove herself takes her through myriad New Orleans neighborhoods and forces her to take a hard look at her own life.
Nola desperately wants to write news at the Times-Picayune, but this young reporter has no idea about how to compromise or how to show her bosses how capable she can be. Although her editors know she has talent, Nola has alienated her bosses and her co-workers with her attitude. She also is such a novice that she doesn't recognize a story that could make a career when it is handed to her -- a look at the more than 800 sex offenders who have gone "off the grid" since Katrina and are still living in New Orleans.
Nola learns what motivates sexual offenders as her investigation travels through the poorest neighborhoods and the wealthiest, where a matron frets not that her son raped teenagers but that his arrest dried up their invitations to society events. The story heats up even more when Nola links one of the sex offenders to the disappearance of a young tourist from a crowded restaurant.
Set in 2008, "Hell or High Water" vividly illustrates a New Orleans still in chaos from Katrina as it looks at recovery efforts from its residents and from outsiders. Castro also delivers a realistic look at an active newsroom and how vital a print newspaper can be to its readers.
Although she was named after the city, Nola has little affection for her hometown and dreams of working in New York. Nola's ambition stems not just from a desire to get ahead but to prove that she can rise above her upbringing in the poverty-level Desire Projects. But her dislike of the Big Easy parallels her own unease with herself and her background.
For Castro and Nola, "Hell or High Water" is just the beginning of what should be a long-running series.
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the author
Joy Castro, "Hell or High Water," will be among the authors at the Miami Book Fair International, which runs from Nov. 11-18 on the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College in downtown Miami. Details are at miamibookfair.com.