Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: The Cutting Season

Summary: In Black Water Rising, Attica Locke delivered one of the most stunning and sure-handed fiction debuts in recent memory, garnering effusive critical praise, several award nominations, and passionate reader response. Now Locke returns with The Cutting Season, a riveting thriller that intertwines two murders separated across more than a century.

Caren Gray manages Belle Vie, a sprawling antebellum plantation that sits between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where the past and the present coexist uneasily. The estate's owners have turned the place into an eerie tourist attraction, complete with full-dress re-enactments and carefully restored slave quarters. Outside the gates, a corporation with ambitious plans has been busy snapping up land from struggling families who have been growing sugar cane for generations, and now replacing local employees with illegal laborers. Tensions mount when the body of a female migrant worker is found in a shallow grave on the edge of the property, her throat cut clean. 

As the investigation gets under way, the list of suspects grows. But when fresh evidence comes to light and the sheriff's department zeros in on a person of interest, Caren has a bad feeling that the police are chasing the wrong leads. Putting herself at risk, she ventures into dangerous territory as she unearths startling new facts about a very old mystery—the long-ago disappearance of a former slave—that has unsettling ties to the current murder. In pursuit of the truth about Belle Vie's history and her own, Caren discovers secrets about both cases—ones that an increasingly desperate killer will stop at nothing to keep buried. 

Taut, hauntingly resonant, and beautifully written, The Cutting Season is at once a thoughtful meditation on how America reckons its past with its future, and a high-octane page-turner that unfolds with tremendous skill and vision. With her rare gift for depicting human nature in all its complexities, Attica Locke demonstrates once again that she is "destined for literary stardom" (Dallas Morning News). -- Harper

One of the most exciting things about Mystery Mondays is when I discover a talented new-to-me author. And that's exactly what happened when I picked up THE CUTTING SEASON by Attica Locke. I admit that I did have pretty high expectations for this novel based on the reviews I had read as well as the attention that her debut novel generated, and I am certainly glad that this literary mystery lived up to them.

THE CUTTING SEASON is a complex story about two murders that take place on the same Louisiana plantation but are separated by over a hundred years. The plantation is called Belle Vie and it's a tourist spot that represents both the beauty of the antebellum South and the injustice of slavery. When a young woman is found brutally murdered on the estate, Caren Gray the manager of the plantation finds herself and her family involved in the murder investigation.

While the police have identified a few potential suspects including a laborer who resents migrant workers or someone who wants to get revenge against a corporation that is acquiring land from small family farms. However, Caren strikes off on her own investigation and is forced to not only examine what is happening on the plantation now but also what occurred in the past.

I thought THE CUTTING SEASON is an excellent example of a literary mystery, and I truly can't recommend it enough for fans of this genre. The mystery was extremely well executed with some smart twists that definitely impressed this mystery fan; however, I think I was even more impressed with the author's writing style. This book was very well written -- from the fully developed characters, to the linking of the present and the past, to the complexity of the characters' actions; and I just love how it made me think.

There are truly so many highlights from this novel that I am only going to be able to touch the surface in this review. One of my favorite things about this novel was how it compared and contrasted the present and past at Belle Vie. The book delved into not only the treatment of slaves both during and after the Civil War, but it also looked at the current state of immigrants and migrant workers. In addition, I thought the author did a remarkable job of exploring Caren's personal present and past, namely her relationship with her mother as well as her her conflicted feelings about the plantation.

Another thing about THE CUTTING SEASON that was stellar was how well developed so many of the characters were, specifically Caren. Caren was extremely complex and, as a result, very real to me. I loved how torn she was about so many things including her feelings towards her ex-boyfriend, the way she wanted to protect her daughter, and her opinion of the plantation owners and workers. I also liked the way Caren changed throughout the course of the novel and eventually realized things about herself and her family that made her a stronger and more well-adjusted person.

And finally, I really liked how well the author brought the setting to life in THE CUTTING SEASON. Her descriptions of the plantation were very detailed and I was able to picture this antebellum estate perfectly (although the map at the beginning of the book didn't hurt either!) But she also managed to make this plantation come to life in such a way that it became another character in the novel.

Normally I hesitate to recommend mysteries to book clubs (maybe because one of our members hates mysteries!), but I think THE CUTTING SEASON would make an excellent discussion book. I found that the motives behind the murders were very interesting, but I also think the various characters are worthy of some analysis. In addition, there is a reading guide available with seventeen thought-provoking questions which should help generate some discussion. Some of the topics you might want to explore include family, the past, slavery, prejudice, immigration, sacrifice, race, and politics.

In conclusion, I thoroughly enjoyed THE CUTTING SEASON, and I was very impressed with Ms. Locke's writing. I now look forward to checking out her critically acclaimed novel BLACK WATER RISING.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


rhapsodyinbooks said...

This sounds great! I have to admit when I saw the title my first reaction was, no, I am not reading another book about self-mutilators! LOL (or not LOL, LOL!) Cane cutting never occurred to me! LOL

bermudaonion said...

Wow, it sounds like Locke is a fabulous author and one to watch for. After reading your review, I can't wait to read this book!

Beth F said...

I have this and have been wanting to read it. Your review has definitely convinced me. I love literary mysteries and it's always a bonus when a mystery makes a good book club choice.

Beth Hoffman said...

I almost didn't read a summary of this book because of the word "Cutting" in the title. Whenever I see that word, I automatically think of an emotionally unstable teen slicing his/her skin.

Thankfully I kept reading and learned this was not the subject matter! You've introduced me to a book that is going on my list. Thanks, Julie.