John Harper lies awake at night in an isolated hut on an Indonesian island, listening to the rain on the roof and believing his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of something he’s already done.
In a local town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own troubled history. They begin an affair that makes Harper realise exile comes in many forms – but can he allow Rita to save him if he is putting her at risk?
Moving between Europe during the Cold War, from California and the Civil Rights struggle to Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the decades of military dictatorship that followed, Black Water is an epic novel that explores some of the darkest events of recent world history through the story of one troubled man.
Black Water is out now from Faber & Faber UK and Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux in the US. The audio book version is also available from Audible and rights have been sold in Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden. It was nominated as one of the New York Times Book Review Notable Books of 2016.
‘I’ve always enjoyed Louise Doughty’s books – especially 2013’s best-selling Apple Tree Yard, which catapulted her into the literary big time. Even so, I wasn’t quite prepared for how good her new one would be… [Black Water] pulls off the John Le Carre trick of combining real moral complexity with page-turning excitement. But that’s just for starters. Doughty’s storytelling is so generous that we also get a touching tale of middle-aged love, some gruesomely well researched history and a terrific section set in pre-Civil Rights America… Black Water has a sense of place as vivid as Graham Greene’s.’ Readers Digest
‘Louise Doughty’s excellent new novel is a character study, a glimpse at midcentury American civil rights, a thriller, a meditation on the effects of foreign policy on individuals, a modern love story and a portrait of Indonesian unrest in the 20th century. And throughout it’s an attempt to explain in dramatic terms how someone lacking the zeal of patriotism might choose a life in the detached, pitiless and barely understood profession we call intelligence. If that sounds like a handful, it is. But Doughty has found an ideal vehicle for her wide-ranging interests… masterful.’ New York Times Book Review
‘A tense, contemplative literary thriller and worthy follow-up to Doughty’s critically acclaimed Apple Tree Yard.’ Booklist (US)
‘In Black Water, her follow-up to Apple Tree Yard, Louise Doughty has created a novel comparable to Graham Greene’s masterpiece The Quiet American in its taut exploration of morality on a geopolitical and personal scale…a gripping thriller, incisive character study, a critique of U.S. foreign policy and a love story haunted by the 1965 massacres in Indonesia.’ Shelf Awareness (US)
‘Black Water is Doughty at her suspenseful best… Doughty writes superbly about sex, but not in a Fifty Shades manner. This is sexual passion as a force for change and possible redemption, when the stakes couldn’t be higher.’ The Times
‘Harper is like one of Graham Greene’s lost souls in this dark, disturbing and complex novel. [Doughty] has Greene’s ability to create a sense of place and beautiful, understated writing engages the reader from start to finish. A triumph.’ The Express
‘As with her previous work, the novel is more a thriller in psychological terms than in action ones, taut with anticipation, humming with possible calamities. Doughty is masterful at building up tension. The reader is full of questions about Harper’s circumstances, and different aspects are revealed piecemeal, building up a disturbing, fragmented whole, like a cubist painting, unsettling and jagged. Themes of personal responsibility, guilt and redemption arise. Is an individual guilty if they are only a cog in a powerful machine perpetrating an evil? Or if their action seeks to thwart a possibly worse outcome? …Doughty’s language is punchy, visually striking and emotionally potent: Europe is described after its bombing during the second world war as “cheap concrete buildings flung up like dentures in a ruined mouth”. This is a compelling and vivid psychological drama, with plenty of bite.’ The Guardian
‘An intelligent thriller so full of shadows that it prickles with the anticipatory tension of a a violent storm on a muggy day.’ Metro
‘The novel opens with John Harper holed up in a shack on a remote Indonesian island, waiting. he believes a gang has been hired to kill him but we begin to suspect that perhaps he’s paranoid. Through a series of tantalising flashbacks, we piece together his past and the source of his guilt… Black Water is a thoughtful, gripping and impressive novel about race and morality.’ Sunday Express
‘That rare thing – a literary thriller. It has a cracking story that’s masterfully told, but is also beautifully written and bursting with original ideas and thoughts.’ Winq magazine
‘The set pieces are done with an almost P.M. Hubbard-like ability to unsettle, and there are domestic scenes, often heavy with significance, that are so well rendered that they approach the comic. Doughty is very good on mannerisms. This is a book for Graham Greene and John le Carré lovers, misanthropes often, who delight in extreme moral quandary.’ The Spectator
[With a] steady bubbling simmer, Doughty paints a vivid picture of the Far East and the dark, unspeakable horrors of civil war and it’s these that stay with you for days. The Pool
‘Black Water is a truly gripping read.’ The Yorkshire Post
‘For readers, like me, who loved Apple Tree Yard, there is the same delicious mounting tension, along with much intrigue, as a lead character slowly reveals their story – and who doesn’t love that – yet this is a very different kind of book. With Black Water Doughty uses the tropes and pace of a thriller to look intricately at race, grief, what makes a family a family, communism, historical events and the disparity of social classes as well as those between Asia and the rest of the world. That is quite something and sure to please Doughty’s many existing fans while bringing her many new readers too.’ deadgoodbooks
‘This is a powerful tale of espionage and love… I found this riveting… very hard to put down and stays with you long after you have finished. Louise Doughty is a fine writer indeed.’ Lovereading
‘Skilfully drawn and compelling… this serious novel marks a departure for Doughty, who psychological thrillers, including Apple Tree Yard, have been so successful. This one strays more into Le Carre territory – where she seems equally at home.’ The Daily Mail
Another morally and emotionally fraught thriller… Doughty skillfully develops a mood of menace and regret even as she dangles the possibility of happiness in the form of Rita… The chilling account of what he sees and does [in 1965] exposes the dark origins of Harper’s individual guilt and probes the larger question of our collective complicity in the evil legacies of colonialism and the Cold War. Yet the compassionate portrait Doughty paints of a man desperate for the opportunity to experience love and loyalty lends a grace note of hope to the deliberately ambiguous ending. Powerful, probing fiction in the tradition of Graham Greene and John le Carré. Kirkus Review (US)