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The American South in the twenty first century A plantation owned for generations by a rich family So much history And a dead bodyJust after dawn Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years Today she sees nothing unusual apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields Assuming an animal has been out after dark she asks the gardener to tidy it up Not long afterwards he calls her to say it's something else Something terrible A dead body At a distance she missed her The girl the dirt and the blood Now she has police on site an investigation in progress and a member of staff no one can track down And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn't know As she's drawn into the dead girl's story she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie the secrets of its past and sees clearly than ever that Belle Vie its beauty is not to be trusted A magnificent sweeping story of the south The Cutting Season brings history face to face with modern America where Obama is president but some things will never change Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics race the law family and love all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel Black Water Rising

10 thoughts on “The Cutting Season

  1. says:

    Atmospheric and engaging crime novel about a woman who manages a plantation turned tourist attraction and event venue and then has to unravel several mysteries past and present when a dead body shows up on the property There is a strong sense of place and I enjoyed how Locke created multiple intrigues The way she develops her characters is also really strong At times the pacing felt off and I wanted tension but I really liked this novel

  2. says:

    people will tell you this is like pelecanos and people will tell you this is like lahane but this is like neither this is uniue and so its own work of art you want to beg everyone everywhere to read it as i said in my updates this book feels canonical to me in the way in which Toni Morrison's Beloved is canonical and Percival Everett's Erasure is canonical also Edward P Jones's The Known World you can add your own books to this list there are some works of literature that recast a frame throw a collective imaginary experience into a new light maybe Walter Mosley too in any case this book seems to me to be tinkering with the representation of african americanness in a way that is utterly original and frankly mind blowing the premise is a plantation that has survived at least architecturally since antebellum times the owners descendants of the plantation's overseer the owners either were killed in the civil war or left still own the fabulous mansion and have put uite a bit of effort into preserving the original buildings including the slave uarter since the mansion is such a gorgeous place it is now used for tours and various functions like weddings and receptions it is fully staffed to this end and and here things get interesting part of the staff is a full time cast of actors who put on several times a day a play written in the 1950s or thereabout by one of the owners' wife the play which means to represent plantation life is not even remotely politically or historically correct but the current owners seem to see some value in its historicality it was after all written in the 1950s and lineage so this is the play everyone sees the cast is of course split into white people owners and black people slaves the latter speaking in the drawling ridiculous caricature of slave speech we are all so familiar with you see the reflections and refractions and mirrorings even as the cast maybe doesn't or maybe does unconsciously or consciously because this is after all a vignette of the uneasy game of working vs tense race relations that take place daily in this country in which we all play our part with our eyes suinted as tight as we can make them without shutting them entirely caren gray the novel's protagonist is the daughter of the mansion's now defunct cook who was a descendant of one of the slaves when the war set everyone free this slave clearly did not go anywhere and here is caren who tried to leave but life misadventures and then katrina nice interweaving here of a very racialized event left her homeless so what else could she do but go back to the place where she grew up? notice that at the time of caren's childhood the clancy family still lived in the mansion so caren's mom descendant of the slaves the clancies' ancestor oversaw was their cook caren of course grew up playing happily with the clancy kids especially bobby who was closer to her in age until well until it was no longer possible because those were other timeslocke's novel is all about how there are not and never there will be other times caren is now manager of the location whose name is belle vie or good life her job is not easy the current cook a black woman used to work under caren's mother and saw caren grow up caren is close to the clancies in the sense that they all grew up in the same house but now she's both their employee and the boss of a bunch of black and white people whose job is to reproduce end of the 19th century plantation life for tourists and school kids imagine daily re enactments of the holocaust in auschwitz imagine that the actors who play the guards are german and the actors who play the inmates are jews from all over europe slimmed out to the edge of excessive skinniness for maximum realism imagine that the whole show is run by a child of a holocaust survivor on behalf of the child of a nazi leader since this is a mystery it all starts with the murder of a young woman who worked in the sugar cane plantation which is still in operation and while owned by the clancies is operated by a subcontractor its workers are mostly undocumented seasonal immigrants it could be hokey but it isn't locke lets the parallelisms sink in while she keeps well out of the way sticking to mostly sparse prose and caren's daily activities and preoccupations the novel is full of gestures coffee preparation a kid to pick up from school walking the grounds supervising the plays dealing with the police the first half is breath taking we don't yet know what exactly happened to caren from the moment she left the mansion never in her mind to come back there is clearly a lot of failure in her last few years but we don't know what it is from the moment she discovers the body and calls the police she's a reticent witness causing the cops' suspicion and frustration you may get frustrated too why isn't caren forthright? why doesn't she cooperate ? what does she have to hide?locke wisely skillfully keeps out of the way not offering explanations but you soon realize that this is louisiana; that we are on plantation land; that caren is a black woman a slave descendant; and that a murder was committed on the land owned by the super wealthy descendants of what was probably a not wealthy at all overseer from where has all this money come to the clancies? there's no mystery here only history but this history weighs heavily on caren's mind and body and psyche making her suirrely reticent the detectives of course are white men so the first half is steeped in a dread that is difficult to bear or at least it was to me it’s the dread of centuries of terrible relations between african americans and white people in power relations that are steeped in blood violence humiliation subjugation and an unshakeable belief that some of us are better from just about every point of view except maybe brutal strength than some other of us the second half is where all the knots get untangled and maybe is not as magical not as mind blowing it's not that it couldn't have been but locke gets into mystery writer mode and gives us what the conventions reuire it's still beautifully written and super smart but it's not the unbelievable novel of the first half but who cares? the connection between modern day slavery and old times slavery needs to be made over and over and over because we are all complicit and barely aware of the wage wars being fought by immigrant activists over tomatoes and other produce at the time of this writing publix the supermarket where i buy my groceries is still not down with the basic principles of fair wage as stated by the redoubtable Coalition of Immokalee Workers the fair food program involves startling demands like a code of conduct outlawing debt bondage and reuiring humane conditions of labor and a livable wage also shade stations toilets and drinking water why won't publix agree to such basic demands? why do i keep shopping there? would i have been an abolitionist during slave times? i wonder but this is not on the surface of The Cutting Season this is where The Cutting Season leads you the book is written with great effectiveness and attentiveness and tries very hard to and mostly succeeds at not hitting you over the head with anything at the end of the day it’s still the story of a woman with a terrible past and very very difficult present

  3. says:

    I really wanted to like this book than I did It had all the elements I love in a good mystery an interesting and well rendered setting; a varied cast of characters; the today's mystery brings a mystery from the past to light plot device that I always enjoy when it is well conceived as it is here; and a strong woman at the center of it all I like the writing and thought the book was well crafted But I still somehow never uite connected with it never fell into it or reached that delicious point of tension between wanting to savor every page and needing to read as fast as possible to find out what happens next I am not sure why but I expect it has something to do with the main character Caren Now I admired Caren Respected her rooted for her was on her side 110% and was cheering for her at the end But I never got the feeling of being her friend or that she was someone I would enjoy getting to know To me she came across as lacking joy in her life or the ability to take pleasure in the simple moments even to laugh with her daughter Anyway I will give Locke another try because she got so very much right with this book and I am still glad that I read it

  4. says:

    Imagine you were just beginning a game of Clue and I said to you “Hey it was either Mr Green with Revolver in the Library or Miss Scarlett with the Lead Pipe in the Kitchen or Colonel Mustard with the Rope in the Ballroom” Then I let you wander around aimlessly the whole game before apropos of nothing I said it was the last choice Now let’s finish the game That is the frustration I felt with this bookIt seems the author wanted to write a great novel of modern race relations but felt compelled to force it into a mystery format thus missing on both fronts The unfortunate problem is Ms Locke is a very talented writer the setting of her book was beautiful her characters had definite possibilities and the crime itself was intriguing She had all the pieces for a great novel but failed to put the puzzle togetherI think the plot derailed with the choice of main character Caren the caretaker of the living history museum Belle Vie Plantation While an interesting person in her own right she never really investigated anything nor as an ordinary citizen did she have an avenue to Rather like my initial analogy she was just a person to whom full solutions could be presented to over the course of the book Typically a solid mystery would have a character dig into the threads of a solution and as the story progresses slowly find the truth The side character of the investigative reporter would have had the means to pull that off much betterThen when we are given the big climax wherein all is explained and it really comes as a complete package instead of a rewarding journey There was so much to be explored and discussed between the two family histories both Caren’s and the villain’s and the two crimes both ancient and modern In the end there were the seeds of a great novel contained in The Cutting Season that I would have loved to have read and Attica Locke is than capable of writing it This novel was okay and worth the read but I am anxiously awaiting her next effort with high hopes she hits the homerun I feel is coming

  5. says:

    35I really liked this book but it took its slow Southern time getting around to the mystery part Coverups migrant workers railroaded young men memories of a plantation’s slave days and reconciling the past and the present made for one complicated book It was a lot to unpack and the plot seemed to careen from one twist to another and then the author threw in some unfinished romantic business that uite frankly was unnecessary I think the book tried to be too many things — I would have preferred learning about the past crime and less about the mess of characters that mostly played an auxiliary roles She created a great cast of characters but then teased their stories in some cases I really liked her main character Caren but I just wish the author had focused her writing rather than overly broadened it Still I’d read another from her I loved seeing the plantation museum and small town from the perspective of her heroine

  6. says:

    A story about the American South's shameful history and how the crimes of the past ring in the present The Cutting Season was presented to me as a mysterytrhiller but it reads like a contemporary novel that explores the history of black culture in a subtle way woven between the murder of a migrant worker in a cane cutting operation The operations manager for a historical plantation Belle Vie is Caren Gray a compelling irony being she's a black woman a single mother simply trying to provide for her daughter in a struggling economy and deal with her ex's remarriage despite her wish of a reconciliation Belle Vie is a combination of museum and venue taking tour groups around the magnificent grounds and hosting dramatic parties and lavish weddings while local black actors reenact the antebellum mansion's slave owner past for guests All of this is thrown into peril when the groundskeeper discovers a woman's body in a shallow grave Caren is determined to make sure the woman's death is taken seriously and to see the right person is punished for the crime after an employee is arrested but she believes his innocence The author Attica Locke almost makes an important point about the American justice system and how plea deals and bargains often see the wrong person admitting guilt in order to escape the fear of a harsher sentence but she never does much than raise the issue uietly And this habit of bringing something up but never following through is present throughout most of the novel It's basically literary blue balls to me Caren's loyalties and the pull between doing what is right and doing what is safe become the driving force of the novel as she puts herself her daughter and her future in danger navigating Belle Vie's history most importantly the murder of her own ancestor on the plantation and the parallel mystery of the migrant worker's death as the cops are entirely uninterested The writing technically is really beautiful The prose are lovely but beneath the flowery paragraphs I found nothing Read Literary Blue Balls Not to put too fine a point on it but a lot of the themes the author broached remained on the surface; like the flaws of the justice system the preservation of the South's slave history less for teaching the history and for profitability or migrant workers and the condition of their lives etc Perhaps this was intentional on the author's part but for me it was just a little too careful This extended to the characters While Caren is a perfectly sketched out heroine she was really the only character with any depth The power players on the scene the employees under her care her daughter and her ex they were all barely developed to meThe most refined part of the book was the setting the South and it's history comes alive on the apge This was something the author clearly has a deep attachment to But that was the most emotion I got out this The first half of the book felt like a Bring Your Reader to Work Day with Caren as we're told about all the little parts of her day from her errands to making coffee or picking her kid up from school Call it tension building if you want but I found it boring In the second half the mystery is so slow to build up and disappointing in the reveal lacking any type of twist or surprise I see what Locke was trying to create here a mystery surrounded by the tense history of race in America but it just missed the mark for me overall

  7. says:

    If you prefer prose that peppers your nose and wows you with wonder and awe then you might find yourself having a grand time while reading about the Deep South where the tea is always sweet an afternoon rain happens daily and the humidity is so thick you have to keep your head down and plow forward through the mist With the opening line I was caught in time and found myself veering ahead with what might have been excitement mixed with hope But alas she was a fairer lass than Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton who changed her mind at the drop of a dime and I found myself rather chagrined with the story I was about to begin It ended there this love affair and I slogged through the rain in my poncho and galoshes the rain splashing my face and assaulting my senses I sneezed and then sneezed againThe story could have been much and something I could adore but alas twas not meant to be and so it shall go down in history as another two star read What might have been much better in this little endeavor is if the plot and the ending matched the rest of the prose instead of just taking me on a journey with atmosphere and vocabulary What I discovered was a killer who spouted off a little too long in the mouth and beueathed our fair heroine with than a few antidotes If sugar cane and acid rain had mixed on the page and devoured this journey tearing and ripping its way toward salvation and extending the plot with than a few thoughts I might have found myself in the middle of THE CUTTING SEASON and happy to be placed out in the fields of laborInstead I feel I am the one who missed out on the fun and now I must end this little simulation with a dance imitation and shuffle and grand production where the tourists with the t shirts and flip flops and backpacks shall endeavor to visit my plantationCross posted at Robert's Reads

  8. says:

    Attica Locke a new to me author has such an interesting knack of telling a story She weaves together the past and present to create a tragic mystery involving not one killing but two Her background as a screenwriter is readily apparent she sets her scenes thoughtfully and with a purpose The first few chapters seemed devoted to the scene and the main character build which creates bond between the reader and Caren right from the get go My Reactions 2009 is an interesting year to pick as the timeframe for a story I appreciated the nod to how Caren voted in 2008 and the careful attention she paid to her ballot Caren's intelligence stands out as one her most admirable character traits It is interesting how Caren subtly downplays her intelligence in various aspects of her life The beginning uote prior to the title page We navigate by stories but sometimes we only escape by abandoning them Rebecca Solnit This hits own with the ending I wasn't comfortable with the ending I think because I wanted justice and restitution for Jason When I flipped through the pages after finishing my eyes came to the Locke's choice for the beginning uote and how she ended the book for Caren and Jason makes sense to me now I didn't figure it out who dunnit until pretty much Caren had figured it out I appreciate that in a storyteller The attention that she draws to the plight of migrant workers is needed I understand the reasoning for how Locke finished the book with Caren and Eric's story I wish it ended differently but it was realistic right and mature Very adultish All in all I found this to be an enjoyable read It wasn't graphic it was plot driven and I hope we can see of Caren in a future book I have high hopes to follow her legal careerWhat Is It About Caren Gray is the the property manager of Belle Vie a plantation situated near New Orleans Her days are spent surveying the property in the early morning planning menus with her antagonist cook for events and school tours that are educated on the historic site through a play acted out by actors with varied backgrounds and agendas Life is stabilizing for her and her young daughter On an early morning property inspection Caren finds a body of a young woman with her throat slit The investigation is underway and Caren finds herself drawn into the mystery as an innocent is targeted for blame and the real killer is loose The she discovers about the dead woman Belle Vie's secrets her employer and staff; Caren learns her life wasn't as stabilized as she had once convinced herself As history refuses to remain buried Caren begins to make the bold choices she was supposed to make for herself all along

  9. says:

    I just love reading reviews on this site People just love everything and love telling the plot Every book is good and every author is a good writer And I think I will add thatalmost every reviewer reader is delusional and has little idea of what makes a good bookIn the case of Attica Locke she is indeed a good writer Black Water Rising her debut novel was a much better read with a layered and engrossing plot This one is a standard mystery complete with obvious red herrings and a uick solution The setting is great and the back story holds interest but what this writer showed in her previous novel did not come through at all in this one It lacks suspense and an interesting heroine The plot development is awkward and holds little interest Yet for all these issues Locke writes well Unfortunately this book appears like an opera with only one dazzling aria

  10. says:

    Caren Gray is the manager of what used to be a sugarcane plantation called Belle Vie Belle Vie is now used as a tourist attractionbanuet center When the body of a female migrant worker is found on the grounds to Caren's chagrin the police do not appear to be on the correct tract One of Caren's workers uickly becomes the main suspect and it appears that her young daughter has knowledge of the crime which puts her life in dangerThis then becomes a riveting mystery Caren calls in her daughter's father a renown attorney to assist in the case In the process of solving the mystery Caren is able to solve a century old murder of one of her ancestors It was a can't put down read for me The characters were nicely drawn and uite believable in their portrayals I had no idea who the perpetrator was until the very end which was a plus for me This book was a mind blower