Caren Gray has tried very hard to escape her roots in Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, but for all that, she is back at Belle Vie, the antebellum plantation where she grew up. She manages the plantation, works with the clients, handles the personnel, and deals with any unforeseen circumstances — such as a body found in a shallow grave on the plantation grounds.
The Cutting Season has a decent mystery at its center. There are some good twists and turns on the way to uncovering the murderer and some good misdirection along the way. There are a host of subjects — an angry young man working on the plantation, who admitted he was there at the time of the murder; the manager of the farming operation next door, a man with a vicious reputation; the townspeople, many of whom resented the migrant workers. Even Caren’s daughter may have information that she is withholding.
The one problem I had with the story was Caren herself — she is not a very likable character. She makes some terrible decisions; she withholds and even tampers with evidence, her behavior makes the police suspect her and her decisions regarding her daughter’s father? Good lord. Someone needs to give that woman a good hard shake. As we learn about her history, this is a long-established pattern. It was frustrating for me as a reader and kicked me out of the mood of the story on several occasions.
I also thought that there were a lot of opportunities for tension and drama in the story that weren’t followed up on. You have a black woman working on an antebellum plantation for the white man who owns it. You have migrant farm laborers, mostly Hispanic, at odds with the black workers that they have replaced. I don’t expect an author to follow up on every single thread, but I thought there were some missed opportunities. I also was not entirely happy with the ending, but I can’t say more without giving too much away. It’s something that happens in a lot of mysteries, and it is never satisfying.
Even after all that, I enjoyed the book. There is a lot of good reading in this story, plenty of suspense and it certainly gives the reader a lot to think about. An unlikable main character isn’t an impossible obstacle to overcome and other readers may react differently to Caren and her flawed decision-making, and her bad decisions play perfectly into a pretty absorbing mystery. I would definitely add Locke’s earlier novel, Black Water Rising, to my TBR list. For more information on the author, check out her website.
My copy of The Cutting Season was an Advanced Reader Copy, provided free of charge.