American screenwriter Attica Locke made a splash with her Orange Prize-shortlisted debut novel Black Water Rising three years ago, and this second novel looks set to create just as much of a stir.
The Cutting Season
The Cutting Season
Reviewed by Doug Johnstone
The Cutting Season is set in modern day Louisiana, but is haunted by ghosts of the past, dealing with centuries of racial tension in the area - a tension some may think has disappeared, but which lurks just beneath the surface. The focus for the book is Caren Gray, a confident, middle-aged black woman who manages Belle Vie, a sumptuous old plantation building and grounds that these days acts as a tourist attraction and venue for high-end functions.
The book opens with the discovery of a young black woman’s body buried in a shallow grave on the grounds, just a few yards from the fence separating the plantation from the nearby sugar cane fields. Caren helps the police in their investigations, but is also wary of one of her employees getting stitched up for the murder by the local police. Then, when Caren’s ten-year-old daughter becomes embroiled in the investigation, she’s forced into subterfuge and deceit, as well as having to look into the murder herself.
The Cutting Season is immediately engaging and Locke has the expert plotting skills you might expect from a seasoned screenwriter, with tension and conflict stalking just about every page. There’s also a really fantastic evocation of place and character, all her main players are believable and well rounded, and Bell Vie almost becomes a character itself, so vividly is it painted.
The subtext of this fine novel is one of racial conflict – how far have we really come from the days of slavery and subjugation, how much should we do in the way of reparation, and how much can people today be held responsible for the despicable actions of their ancestors? Locke uses both her main protagonist and her circumstances to delve deeply into these unsettling ideas, using the history of the region to add a further layer of resonance to what is already a compelling story. Thoughtful and complex yet gripping and thrilling, this is fine, mature crime writing.