Like any good mystery, Attica Locke’s new novel, “The Cutting Season,” begins with a body. But, “this being Louisiana after all,” the story also begins with a cottonmouth snake “measuring the length of a Cadillac” falling from a tree into someone’s lap.
The lush setting of the South is integral to this fast-paced, beautifully written novel. Caren Gray is the manager of Belle Vie, a plantation-turned-events-center. When one of the field workers from the neighboring sugar-cane farm is found dead, questions are raised about the treatment of the workers and the whereabouts of Caren’s staff the night of the murder. As Caren investigates further, she can’t help but notice a connection between this murder and the murder of her great-great-great grandfather, a slave who worked at the plantation.
While “The Cutting Season” is first and foremost a mystery, it also explores the complexities of living on a plantation in the present day, as Caren carries out her duties of planning elaborate weddings and school tours in view of her ancestor’s slave cabins. Readers also are privy to wonderfully developed characters and relationships, especially between Caren and her ex, with whom she is forced to cooperate to keep their daughter safe.
While gripping and thoughtful, there are some challenges to the book. The first 30 pages are dense, chock-full of characters and background information. Locke also makes some heavy-handed turns in the name of smooth plot development, such as the security guard who always seems to have the night off and a convenient change of heart at the end of the book.
These challenges aside, Locke manages to craft a page-turning novel that speaks to larger issues of race, family and how recorded history often does not tell the full story.