High water, low deeds drive Coast native's thriller

"Watermark," by Michael Hewes, 296 pages, Smantoff Press, $14.99 paperback

Gulfport lawyer Michael Hewes set his new novel, "Watermark," in his hometown, featuring a lawyer who returns to the Coast on the heels of the worst hurricane to invade these shores since the French landed in 1699.

What that protagonist, Matt Frazier, discovers is total devastation and an eerie silence replete with "no traffic, no lawnmowers, no seagulls, no dogs, no people. Nothing." Nothing that is, except an all-pervading mess of political corruption, murder and conspiracy to murder on a scale as unprecedented as the hurricane itself.

This occasionally far-fetched but always entertaining novel is actually three stories in one.

The first is very likely a precise retelling of the post-Katrina nightmare that many Coast residents, including Hewes, endured. Consequently, his primary local audience undoubtedly will find this beginning a riveting and realistic recollection of those dark days of horror and heroism.

Hewes takes the reader through obliterated neighborhoods where survivors search (often in vain) for photo albums and children's favorite toys, to boaters dodging houses, cars and upturned boats in the Mississippi Sound.

Second, what Frazier also finds is a mur

dered law partner, the loneliness of separation from his wife and children now ensconced with relatives in Meridian, and, fortunately, an irrepressible neighbor, Hank Mallette, one of the most flamboyant and unpredictable Southern fiction characters since James Lee Burke's Clete Purcell.

This second section suffers from an overuse of proper nouns where pronouns would have sufficed, but that is a small price to pay for meeting Hank, Frazier's law partner Delia and his buddy Hop.

These characters keep the story afloat until Hewes' plot thickens like a hurricane building across the Atlantic during the third section, the last 125 pages of what finally becomes a memorable thriller.

The third lands with the punch of a tropical storm, revealing a cesspool of political corruption that threatens to drown the entire state.

Culprits of the corruption are thinly veiled, real-life politicians known to many who will read the book, but existing in a mirror universe where even the best politicians are reverse evil images of themselves.

To identify them would be to give away the plot, so I will assiduously refrain from spoiling it for everyone else.

Suffice it to say, Coast residents will find Hewes' "Watermark" a worthwhile reminder of how determined human beings can overcome the worst kind of difficulties, from those wrought by nature's wrath to those that we bring upon ourselves through faithlessness, dishonesty and greed.