The Cutting Season, Attica Locke’s second book, successfully combines the Southern-Lit and Crime/Thriller genres in a well-crafted read. Set on a Louisiana plantation called “Belle Vie” the plantation is one of the centerpieces of this story. It was once a thriving sugar cane operation made prosperous by slave labor. It’s now open for tourists as an open-air museum and a special occasion rental location. The main protagonist, Caren Gray, finds refuge for herself and her now 11 year-old daughter, Morgan, at Belle Vie when fleeing Hurricane Katrina’s path through New Orleans.
Caren was raised at Belle Vie. Her estranged mother was the cook on the plantation until her unexpected death. The plantation was only supposed to provide a temporary refuge, but four years have passed and single mom Caren is still managing the day-to-day operations at Belle Vie.
After a particularly rainy week, she discovers the partially buried body of a migrant worker just inside the plantation’s fence line. What ensues is a hunt for the murderer which involves delving into the history of the plantation, and into the background of the current set of plantation employees and local residents.
The book’s title refers to the sugar cane cutting season. The plantation is surrounded by sugar cane fields that have been leased by the large farming corporation called the Groveland Corporation. The current farm foreman has a sinister past. Could he be the murder? As local family oral tradition holds, the sugar cane fields were also the last place Caren’s great-great grandfather Jason was seen alive in 1872. Was he cut down there in the prime of his life?
When Caren and her daughter are threatened after the murder of the migrant worker, Ines; she calls Morgan’s father, Eric, a well-connected attorney who now lives in Washington DC. He flies out to try and help sort things out, and to protect Morgan. There are quite a few twists and turns in the plot line There are also marked similarities between the lives that migrant workers live now and how the newly freed slaves lived after the end of the Civil War. I found the parallels to be compelling. Ultimately all anybody wants is the means to make life better for themselves and their families. While I thought that Caren’s decision about how to move forward in her life was a bit of a letdown at the end of the book; I can see that she did what she thought was best to make a better life for her daughter.
The Cutting Season was a finely plotted mystery mixed with historical fiction; Locke did an excellent job addressing the issues facing the modern South, and the South immediately following the end of the Civil War. It was a good solid read that had me quickly turning pages and guessing about the identity of the killer most of the way through the book.
Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.