Title: Hell or High Water
Author: Joy Castro
352 pages, Published by Thomas Dunne Books
Buy The Book: Amazon
Nola Céspedes, an ambitious young reporter at the Times-Picayune, finally catches a break: an assignment to write her first full-length feature. While investigating her story, she also becomes fixated on the search for a missing tourist in the French Quarter. As Nola’s work leads her into a violent criminal underworld, she’s forced to face disturbing truths from her own past and is confronted with the question: In the aftermath of devastation, who is responsible for rebuilding what’s been broken?
Vividly rendered in razor-sharp prose, this haunting thriller is a riveting journey of trust betrayed—and the courageous struggle to rebuild. Fast-paced, atmospheric, and with a knockout twist, Hell or High Water features an unforgettable heroine as fascinating and multilayered as New Orleans itself. (Summary provided by Thomas Dunne Books.)
Hell Or High Water by Joy Castro is quite the literary thriller! The novel takes place in 2008, Post-Katrina New Orleans. In the midst of a wave of abductions terrorizing the city, Nola Céspedes receives an assignment to cover the treatment of sex offenders in New Orleans for the Times Picayune. Nola soon discovers many sex offenders are off the radar since Hurricane Katrina and begins to dig deeper into the disappearance of the latest victim.
I spend a lot of time in New Orleans, so much that I view it as a second home. There were many familiar places in the book. Jacques-Imo’s, a restaurant I eat at often was mentioned. There was also a very memorable scene in Maple Street Book Shop, my favorite book store in New Orleans. These mentions and host of other subtleties made me think that surely a New Orleans native must have written the book. I was shocked when I found out Joy Castro is not from New Orleans, because I felt immersed in the culture of the city as I read.
It is a city I know well. However, viewing New Orleans through Nola’s eyes was like seeing the city for the first time. Nola, the protagonist, grew up in the Desire Projects. Desire consisted of over 262 buildings and was demolished in 2003. Throughout the novel Nola struggles with her childhood spent growing up in Desire. Nola views the splendor of the gilded city through eyes that have seen both sides of a racially divided city. She struggles with her sense of identity and finding inner peace as a Cuban American in a culture largely separated into “black and white.” When Nola sees the fleur de lis, she sees not only the beauty of the symbol that represents the city but also, the brand that corrections girls of Paris were given before coming to America to populate the city at its inception.
Castro’s descriptions of post-Katrina New Orleans depict a time when people united across social classes in the wake of mutual devastation.
Finally, me and the rest of the folks in New Orleans – rich folks, white folks, black folks, the solid members of the middle class- we all had something in common. Our lives had been forever sliced into before and after. It wasn’t just me exiled from my past. All of us were.
Through Nola’s remembrances, Joy Castro paints a portrait of a broken city left to pick up the pieces together in the wake of Katrina’s destruction and the government’s horribly delayed reaction. I lived in Mobile, AL when Katrina hit the MS Gulf Coast and New Orleans. I was born and raised on the MS Gulf Coast. I moved back to the MS Gulf Coast in 2006. I spent a lot of time in Biloxi during the aftermath of Katrina. My in-laws lost their home to Katrina, and I’ll never forget the moment we saw the slab where the house once stood for the first time. It was heartbreaking. Joy Castro’s Hell Or High Water brings back memories of a time in American history I hope will never be forgotten. Castro’s Katrina scenes in the novel invoke a time when people united not just out of desperation but out of love for their communities as well.
Nola’s sense of discontent with the city that is her namesake slowly mixes with fear and paranoia as she gets deeper into the sex offender investigation.When offenders begin to get too close, Nola’s own psychological struggles break open, and she begins to lose control. There is a scene in Hell Or High Water that takes place on Grand Isle and references The Awakening by Kate Chopin. The Awakening is one of my favorite novels and Castro uses it to beautiful, cathartic effect. Castro masterfully intertwines her protagonist’s terror and psychological struggle to create a novel I will not soon forget. Hell Or High Water will stay with me, and I will never see New Orleans the same way again.
FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from Book Sparks PR, and I receive a small commission from any purchases made through the Amazon links throughout the site.
Black and White Photo 1: Purchased from istockphoto and framed using FX Photo Studio.
Black and White Photo 2: purchased from istockphoto. Edited and framed using FX Photo Studio.