I had never heard of Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season when I first came across it on BookOutlet. It was the gorgeous cover that immediately grabbed my attention, coupled with that intriguing title, I just knew I had to buy it.
The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.
Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it’s something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn’t know. As she’s drawn into the dead girl’s story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted.
A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising.
The writing in this book was wonderful. Attica Locke is a screenplay writer and it immediately shows from the very first page. She has such a beautiful way of really setting the scene that instantly pulls you into the story. I was able to completely picture Belle Vie and all of the characters that considered it their home. The beautiful, yet somberness of the plantation was the perfect backdrop for this murder mystery.
The plot was very engaging. The mystery begins within the first chapter and never stops until the end. You’re constantly going back and forth trying to figure out who the killer is and what really happened as new information comes to light. I saw some reviews on Goodreads that had issues with how the mystery is portrayed, with Caren learning things from others rather than finding it out herself. However, this just made it more realistic to me because Caren isn’t a cop or detective, just a normal woman thrown into this awful situation. I’m pretty sure she discovered some things on her own too, so I don’t really get those complaints. Haha!
I really enjoyed Caren as a main character. I thought she was a very complex character, full of opposing thoughts and feelings that you don’t often find in novels. Watching her navigate her relationships with her daughter, ex-boyfriend, and the many different employees on the plantation was so engrossing. I truly felt like I really knew Caren as a person by the end of the story. One thing that really stuck out was learning about her relationship with her deceased mother and how that tied in with her mixed feelings about Belle Vie. Locke did a wonderful job playing off the differences between Caren and her ex, Eric, who was raised in Chicago. You could really see how deep her Southern roots and traditions battled against Eric’s Northern pragmatism. If you’re from the South, you’ll laugh at how true this is. We just can’t help it, y’all!
Because this is an own voices novel, it sheds some light on the systemic race issues that have plagued African Americans within the justice system. However, I felt there was a lot more room for Locke to dive deeper into examining the issue. It seemed that she was just skimming the surface of it in the story, rather than really making it a major focus as the synopsis suggested. However, I do appreciate that she examined some of the history of the situation through Caren’s research into her family’s history and the disappearance of her ancestor from the plantation.
If you’re looking to diversify your reading a bit with an own voices story and are in the mood for an atmospheric mystery, I really do recommend this book.
Final Verdict: 4/5 Stars
Have you read The Cutting Season? Do you enjoy reading mystery novels? Have you read any of Locke’s other novels?