Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Cutting Season
by Attica Locke
3 stars - a fun read

Attica Locke is a really cool name. Yup.

I heard Ms. Locke interviewed on Morning Edition on my local NPR station. What an interesting person. Of course I put her novel in my queue.

The Cutting Season is a mystery set on a Louisiana plantation which has been converted into a tourist spot. The main character is Caren Grey who runs the plantation business. That business being comprised of tours, weddings, and other events. 

Caren starts each day with a tour of the grounds to make sure everything is in order. The schoolhouse, the gift shop and cottages, and, finally, the old slave shacks located on the very edge of the vast property. On the morning the book opens, she gets a creepy feeling when she goes to check on the slave quarters. 

Someone had been in here, she thought, inside this very cabin. It was the stillness that spooked her. Not the kind of emptiness that comes with actual vacancy, but rather a kind of 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.

Spooky, eh? 

Meanwhile, the old plantation is ringed by sugar cane fields owned by a vast corporation which preys off of migrant workers. 

The scene is set and since this is a mystery, soon enough a body turns up. A partially buried body found right near those very same slave cabins. And we are underway.

I confess I liked the first half of the book better than the second. I feel like Ms. Locke lost some of that lyricism in her writing that grabbed me in the beginning. The first part of the book introduces many characters and sets the reader up for any one of a number of conclusions to the actual mystery.

But the mystery itself isn't the whole of the novel. The novel also raises questions about the divide that still exists between black and white. A divide based on very recent history to many of the characters in the book who can trace their lineage directly back to slave or owner. And as I read along I realized how very white most of the books I read are. Very white. I read along and assume that everybody is white unless otherwise noted, but then I realized, why should they be? Caren is black, but the race of other characters is sometimes mentioned and sometimes not and I was dismayed to find that it mattered to me. I didn't want to imagine the characters the wrong way. Weird. So kind of an eye opening experience for me. That's good.

Caren's ex-boyfriend and the father of her daughter, shows up and the complex history they share is very real and painful. Caren herself is pulled back and forth through time as the past life of the plantation (a life that is in her blood) creeps in to the possible reasons for the murder itself. 

I don't usually try too hard to figure out mysteries. I prefer a surprise (but do want it to be plausible). This one is quite plausible, but I thought the last third of the book was a bit rushed and it lost some of the intensity of the earlier parts. 

Not sure I would run out to read another of Ms. Locke's books (goodness, my queue is already full to overflowing), but I do recommend this one to mystery fans.


  1. It sounds interesting, and I would probably get pretty caught up in the beginning!

    You got me hooked on the Chet and Bernie series. Have you read the latest one yet?

  2. It's always disappointing when a book which starts out so well fizzles out toward the end. I don't think about the race of the characters, either, just let the descriptions the author gives slowly create the picture in my brain. I think there's a pretty good mix of people in them, not dissimilar to that we see in society in general.

  3. There was a guy at World Horror 1997 named Edo von Belkom. My wife was convinced it was a pseudonym because it "sounds too cool to be a real name". Then one time I won a flash fiction contest to get a character named after me in one of JA Konrath's crime novels and somebody commented that they thought I only won because "James Viscosi is a good name for a villain". Hmm, a run of the mill villain maybe, but Edo von Belkom sounds like a supervillain, or at least a Bond one.