Thursday, January 31, 2013

Atmospheric and Haunting, The Cutting Season Gets High Marks From Me

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Caren Gray never intended to return to the Louisiana plantation where she grew up.  Serving in the "big house" was her mother's ambition—never hers.  But, here she is anyway, walking the land where slaves once toiled.  If she'd been born 150 years earlier, Caren would have been working alongside those dark-skinned workers—her ancestors—cutting cane, polishing the master's silver, and raising a family in the tiny slave cottages that still stand on Belle Vie's vast grounds.  Instead, she makes good money managing the plantation, inviting everyone from schoolchildren to senior citizens to visit and learn from its history.  Maybe it's not the career she imagined for herself, but it works for the 37-year-old single mother.

Then, comes a terrible discovery:  the body of a young migrant worker is found on the grounds of Belle Vie. Murder.  Caren doesn't recognize the dead woman, but the vicious killing rocks her to her core.  She's always felt safe at Belle Vie (the plantation's ghosts notwithstanding), but now she worries—are she and her 9-year-old daughter safe living in such an isolated spot?

As the police struggle to find the murderer, Caren finds herself and many of the people she works with at the center of the investigation.  Caren knows she didn't commit the crime, but who did?  Was it someone who knew the woman well, a fellow laborer, perhaps?  Or a local, upset with the migrant workers for "stealing" jobs that could belong to him?  And then there's Groveland—plenty of people are angry with the corporation's aggressive land-grabbing tactics.  Could a fanatic protester have gone too far?  Or is the killer something less down-to-Earth?  Because, as no one but Caren knows, this isn't the first murder to have happened on the grounds of Belle Vie.  Maybe the slaves are finally getting their revenge ...

Although I didn't care much for Attica Locke's debut novel, Black Water Rising, I loved her sophomore attempt.  The Cutting Season offers just about everything I look for in a literary thriller—a twisty plot, complex characters, a vivid setting, skilled writing, etc.  Atmospheric and haunting, the story kept me mesmerized from beginning to end.  I don't give out A's very often, but this one definitely deserves—and receives—high marks from me.    

(Readalikes:  Reminds me a teensy bit of Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman)

Grade:  A-

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language (a dozen or so F-bombs, plus milder invectives), violence and mild sexual innuendo/content

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of The Cutting Season from the generous folks at Harper Collins.  Thank you!

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, this one sounds interesting. Sigh. I'll have to try to get to it.

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