I have to be honest, I was all ready to settle down for an, erm, unsettling mystery with this book. Instead I found myself immersed in an intriguing story with such depth and history that it took me a while to emerge from this. And even longer to figure out how to write about it.
“Still, she took it as a sign.
A reminder, really, that Belle Vie, its beauty, was not to be trusted.
That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a hand both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power. She should have known that one day it would spit out what it no longer had use for, the secrets it would no longer keep.”
Caren Grey is the general manager of Louisiana plantation-turned-tourist attraction Belle Vie. They host weddings and dinners, school tours and your usual tourists, enticing with some lovely 18-acres of views, a 157-year-old building, hearty food (“grits, rolled with smoked Gouda, spinach, and bacon; chard out of the garden, with garlic and lemon; and potatoes creamed with butter and drippings”), and a play by the Belle Vie Players about the plantation’s history.
Caren’s job is to make sure things run smoothly. With an almost-degree (she never quite finished) from Tulane Law School, some might say she’s overqualified for the job, but with a young daughter, it’s the best she can do at the moment. Plus she has ties to the place. Her mother used to cook for the family who lived there, but Caren’s roots go even deeper than that – she is the great-great-granddaughter of slaves who worked the plantation.
Her usual morning rounds come to an abrupt halt when a body is discovered on the property. A female migrant worker, her throat cut, her body buried in a shallow grave on the edge of the property, near the sugarcane fields owned by a burgeoning corporation.
The sheriff’s department thinks they have their man. But Caren thinks otherwise. And sets about trying to put things right. She has her own reasons though – her daughter Morgan, just 9, is keeping something from her, and that something involves a blood stain on the sleeve of one of her school shirts. And more importantly, Caren and Morgan reside on the property, and it is disconcerting to know that there is a killer out there somewhere. As if the plantation weren’t already eerie enough, with its leaden grey fog and rumours of being haunted.
“It was the stillness that spooked her. Not the kind of emptiness that comes with actual vacancy, but rather a strained quiet that was trying too hard, the tightness that comes when someone somewhere is trying very hard to be still, to restrain every twitch and wayward breath.”
Locke effectively uses the murder mystery to frame some bigger issues – race relations, politics, modern-day slavery, corporations etc. It was interesting to see how the Belle Vie Players, caught up in telling their tale of slavery on the plantation years ago, fail to see the similar situation that the migrant workers face working the sugarcane fields next door.
And Locke has given us a character whose roots are firmly in reality. Her emotions are raw, her actions flawed, but Caren is a tough character to like. Given her background as a former law student, some of her actions were questionable, but as a mother intending the best for her child, understandable.
The Cutting Season is an absorbing, well-written, atmospheric read, right from its opening when a snake as long as a Cadillac falls out of a tree and onto a woman’s lap to the way Locke ends it, staying away from conclusions that are too perfect and too neat but thoroughly satisfying.
I can’t wait to read more by Locke – I’ve just requested Black Water Rising from my library.
Check out the other tour stops:
Tuesday, September 17th: red headed book child
Wednesday, September 18th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, September 19th: Book-alicious Mama
Monday, September 23rd: BoundbyWords
Tuesday, September 24th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, September 25th: Peppermint PhD
Thursday, September 26th: Lectus
Monday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, October 1st: Olduvai Reads
Monday, October 7th: M. Denise C.
Attica Locke is the author of the widely acclaimed debut novel Black Water Rising, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was short-listed for the UK’s Orange Prize. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.