Since Walker Holmes first began publishing the Pensacola Insider – the first and only progressive newspaper in this traditionally conservative part of the Sunshine State – he’s been butting heads with the government machine and the Good Ole Boy network that will go to any means to keep that machine humming along as it always has. His latest foil is Sherriff Ron Frost, an old-school lawman with whom Holmes has a long and contentious history, and who is currently pushing his establishment agenda in his and others’ political campaigns. Holmes hears of some evidence that shows Frost is also wielding that agenda in regards to some shady cost-cutting at the local prison facility. Further pursuit of that evidence will have to wait, however, for as is often the case in Florida during Hurricane Season the Gulf Coast is bracing for landfall of a pretty serious storm. As the storm engulfs the city, residents who haven’t evacuated – including the five-person staff of the Insider – scramble for higher ground which conveniently happens to be the headquarters of the paper and Walker’s current residence.
Via the convenience of forced proximity, and after some heated discussions regarding some past issues that had temporarily put the Insider on hold, the group decides to restart production of the journal with the new issue offering comprehensive coverage of the damage left by the storm. Once the weather passes they map out a plan for their coverage. But just as they begin to gather local information on what could be the biggest story of that year a horrible explosion rocks the local prison killing a guard and a number of inmates. Walker sees the explosion as confirmation of the problematic things he’s been hearing about the jail, and refocuses on Frost’s involvement with the issues. As walker gets closer to the truth the people who want to keep that truth from him raise the stakes higher and higher until even the threat to human life hangs in the balance.
Critics may slough this off as a rather conventional storyline, possibly even a simplistic one. But it is this simple and straightforward framework that provides the perfect complement to the raw southern gothic elements of the story. It is also through this classic plot structure that Outzen is able to build-out the lush three-dimensional characters that are the literary highlight of his writing. Enjoying the luxury of this being a sequel to his City of Grudges, and thereby not requiring basic character exposition, Outzen goes further than ever to fully flesh out his players while still supporting their basic premises. Even more crafty is the way he turns this characterization on some of the story’s non-human elements, allowing things like the storm and the city of Pensacola itself to take on lives of their own and subsequently to interact as “normal” characters with the rest of the cast. It is this craftsmanship, along with a dense and well-structured storyline that gives the fast-paced novel its unique voice. BLOOD IN THE WATER itself gives a generous nod to the noir political thrillers of the past while peppering in the perfect amount of sunshine and sandy beaches to peg it as an apt representation of classic Florida fiction.
Fans of Rick Outzen’s newsman Walker Holmes won’t be disappointed with this second helping of his hard-hitting antics, while those new readers are guaranteed to be drawn in by Outzen’s unique take on the southern gothic universe.
~Johnny Masiulewicz for IndieReader