The Cutting Season, Attica Locke

Oh wonderful Attica Locke! If only I had read The Cutting Season after Difficult Men rather than before! Attica Locke would have been a wonderful antidote to the maddening failure of representation.

The protagonist of The Cutting Season (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), Caren Gray, has come back to work and live at the Louisiana plantation where her mother was a cook and her multi-great grandparents were slaves. She manages all of the plantation operations, from tours (complete with a rose-colored play about antebellum life at Belle Vie) to events — Belle Vie is a popular location for weddings and benefits. When an undocumented worker is found on the grounds of Belle Vie with her throat cut, Caren and her nine-year-old daughter are drawn deeper and deeper into the police investigation and the dark past of the plantation where they make their home.

Locke’s evocation of the nausea and nostalgia of old southern plantation homes could not be better. Though the Belle Vie job provided Caren and her daughter a lifeline when they needed one the most, that doesn’t prevent Caren from casting a cynical eye on the way the plantation tours frame the house and its history. She runs the house as its (white) owners want her to, but she won’t go near the slave quarters, which remind her all too vividly of Belle Vie’s violent and traumatic past. She’s as wearily unimpressed by her newest employee’s rhetoric about seeking racial truth as she is by the resident scholar’s impassioned claims about the plantation’s historical importance.

As in Black Water Rising, there’s a degree to which the characters’ mistrust of the police is the sole cause of all their problems, and it would have been easy to feel like, Ugh, but just, if you had just, it’s not like they were going to think your nine-year-old killed someone! Attica Locke smartly subverts this by letting the police focus attention on the immediate, obvious suspect: a young black employee of Caren’s, who has been acting suspicious but not, you know, murder suspicious. It’s another reminder of the unsafeties that attend being black, and it cements Caren’s determination to protect her daughter and herself.

Attica Locke is great and should write more books. The end.

  • I like the idea of approaching this mystery from the point of view of a woman whose mother was a cook at Belle Vie and who now manages tours and events at the same plantation.

    🙂 I find the labels at the end even better than the review! Especially, “weddings at plantations are ick.”

    • Gin Jenny

      Hahaha, thanks! 🙂

  • Seriously – a wedding at a plantation? Major ick. I really enjoyed this book, especially the setting. I visited a lot of plantations with my family, when I was a kid in Georgia, and back in those days the “quarters” were pretty much ignored, as I remember – all the focus was on the big house. I could certainly understand in this case why Caren acted as she did, though in general the “I’ll solve this myself” heroines do irk me a bit. Though I live in Houston, I haven’t yet read Black Water Rising.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, I think that’s still the case at a lot of plantations. It is very ick.

  • We skipped the plantation tours around St Francisville, but couldn’t escape the sight of a motel right in town, down the street from our B&B, that called itself “The Quarters.” We had to drive past it twice to make sure we weren’t mistaking the name.

    • Gin Jenny

      Ugh, yuck. And good call skipping the plantation tours — I haven’t been on one in years, but I was very unfond of them back in the day.

  • I liked the way she explored suspicion of the police here. My own reflex was to expect her to call the police, but then the story kept pressing me to put myself in Caren’s shoes and rethink my assumptions, which is a good thing to do.

    • Gin Jenny

      Totally agree. My instinct is always to avoid involving the police where possible (I am scared of them), so I sympathized with her a lot.

  • Well this sounds marvellous, I’ll have to look out for it. Definitely a shame you hadn’t read it before Difficult Men. I hate it when that happens, especially as Difficult Men failed to reach its potential.

    • Gin Jenny

      If only there were a way of knowing ahead of time which books were going to be crap!

  • I have Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising sitting at my shelves, but for some reason I never got around to it. This one is also on my wishlist. I should pick BWR asap – I’ve been meaning to read it for months now.

    • Gin Jenny

      I liked this one better! Black Water Rising was good, but The Cutting Season I think was better.

  • aartichapati

    I want to read this! But I recently realized that it is the second in the series. Do you think you need to read Black water rising first? Does it add a lot of awesomeness to the story as a whole? I will do it, if so.

    • Gin Jenny

      Great news! It is not the second in a series! Both books are one-and-done. So you can read The Cutting Season straight away. 🙂

  • I have both of Attica Locke’s novels on my wishlist and hope to get around to reading them both soon. This sort of smarter mystery has definitely become my go to when I want an escape that also entertains.

  • Ugh! I have this one just sitting on my shelves. Why haven’t I read it yet??? I’ve heard such good things about this author’s books. I really want to read it now after reading your thoughts. Hopefully this summer I will finally make the time!

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