Hell or High Water by Joy Castro
Hell or High Water is a tautly-written thriller that takes place in the New Orleans of today, where some sections of the city thrive and others still struggle. The author says that life in New Orleans is divided into two categories, before Hurricane Katrina ripped it apart and post Katrina.
The main protagonist is Nola, a news reporter, who has dreams of making a name for herself and leaving the city to go to New York as a reporter for the New York Times. For now though she is stuck working for a struggling newspaper and taking on assignments that do little to challenge her.
Then she is given a chance to do a major feature. She is to write a piece about the many sex offenders who make their home in the city. While it is not a dream assignment, Nola is determined to sink her teeth into it and make it spectacular. She sets up appointments with sex offenders, their victims, the police and mental health professionals.
At the same time, someone has killed a young woman and another has gone missing. As Nola researches the sex offender feature, she also seeks information on the missing woman. Are the two cases related to one another and do either of them have anything to do with one of the men Nola is interviewing?
Nola’s job is on the line and if she does not turn in a great feature, her career at the newspaper will be over. That fact drives her to do the best job she can but at the same time she hopes to help find the missing woman.
The seedy underworld of sex offenders and pedophiles is exposed in this thriller even as the city of New Orleans pulses with life. At times the novel is very dark but the author keeps it balanced with lighter side trips. For instance the reader gets to see some of the nicer parts of the city as Nola spends time with her “little sister.” The child that Nola has been paired with through the Big Sister program has little in her life to cheer for and it’s nice to see Nola reaching out to give her some fun experiences. Getting inside the minds of sexual perverts is certainly heavy but Castro carries it off with skill.
All in all, this thriller has a lot to recommend it and there is a knock-out punch at the end that no reader could see coming. I kid you not, my jaw dropped. Enjoy.
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