book review: The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The backstory: Attica Locke's first novel, Black Water Rising, a literary historical mystery, came in at #3 on my top 10 of 2010 (my review.) The Cutting Season is her second novel.

The basics: The Cutting Season is the story of Belle Vie, an old sugar plantation in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. Caren currently runs Bell Vie, which has been turned into a historical site. Tours regularly come through to witness the history of how the land was once farmed by slaves. It's also a popular location for weddings and special events. Caren's ancestors once worked as slaves on Belle Vie, and her mother worked there as a cook. With deep, complicated family ties to the land, Caren returned home to Belle Vie with her nine-year-old daughter Morgan. When the body of a young woman is discovered on the grounds of the plantation, Caren finds herself trying to solve the crime and discover if there's a connection to the mystery of why her great-great-great-grandfather disappeared from this land so many years ago.

My thoughts: If pressed to pick a genre for this novel, I would begrudgingly call it a literary mystery. Somehow this moniker sells it short to me, however, as Locke uses a mystery to explore themes of race, class, history and progress. Caren is a fascinating character who slowly shares the details of her life, and the lives of her ancestors, with the reader. I appreciated how Locke used Caren to demonstrate the complicatedness of her relationship with Southern history.

I devoured this novel in twenty-four hours, and even though Locke sprinkled only minor clues throughout the novel, I did correctly guess the resolution to both the historic and contemporary storylines quite early. While normally figuring out the ending dampens my enjoyment of a mystery, in this case it did not. Finding out who killed the young woman on Belle Vie is never really the focus of the story. Caren gets caught up in the investigation, but the more urgent and fascinating storyline is of the plantation itself. Locke traces its history from before the Civil War, through emancipation, to Caren's childhood and, finally, to present day. Glimpsing into race relations over all of these years was illuminating enough, but what sets Locke apart from her peers is her ability to also weave in detail about business, politics, love, and parenting. Her books feel like complete worlds, and thus provide the reader with a multi-dimensional tale.

The verdict: The Cutting Season falls a little short of the impossibly high standards Locke set with Black Water Rising, but it will enchant fans of fiction with social justice themes. The mystery's resolution didn't surprise me, but Locke's writing, characterization and exploration of historical and contemporary race relations on a Louisiana sugar plantation are powerful enough to transcend the mystery's slight weakness. Locke once again proves she can write about the past and present powerfully.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 384 pages
Publication date: September 18, 2012
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Cutting Season from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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  1. Love the setting for this one.

  2. Sounds like I need to read this author!

  3. I love it when the books I read feel so complete and the the atmosphere is just right. It sounds like although you preferred the first book, this one was very enjoyable for you too. I need to see if I can get these on audio. I really think I would enjoy them.

  4. I have been reading a lot of good things about this book--I've already put it on my wish list. It sounds like I need to read it soon.

  5. I saw this one at the bookstore and didn't think it was something I'd be into. While I'm thinking I haven't read much literary mystery, I think Tana French could be classified similarly, maybe literary crime? I want to get the first before committing to this. Thanks for the review!

  6. The setting sounds interesting. I have Black Water Rising but haven't read it yet, seems like I need to get to that first!

  7. I'm quite excited to read this as I too really loved Black Water Rising (what a good Orange shortlist it was that year!) and I heard Attica Locke talking about it on the radio. I can't decide whether to Kindle it or splash out on the trade paperback. Usually I prefer to read genre books on my e-reader but from what you say it doesn't sound entirely in the murder mystery corner. Decisions, decisions!

  8. I have Locke's first book on my shelf and I've heard that it is fabulous. Glad that this one is also great. I'll have to bump the first book up on my TBR.

  9. i've been curious about this one. I love the way it sounds. On my list it goes:)

  10. I definitely want to read this. I won it in a contest.

    THANKS for the awesome review and comments.

    Silver's Reviews


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