I have a mental list of authors that I faithfully follow and I pick up everything they write. I know what I like and I have a good idea of what I'll be reading. But on the other side of that coin - picking up a book by an unfamiliar author is an adventure.
The Cutting Season is Attica Locke's second book. I missed her debut novel - Black Water Rising - it won numerous prize nominations and lots of praise. But, after reading The Cutting Season, I can see why. Attica Lockeis good -really good.
Caren Gray and her young daughter have returned home to Belle Vie - the Louisiana plantation Caren was raised on. Her family history with Belle Vie stretches back to the days when her ancestors were slaves in the sugar cane fields. Now the plantation is a tourist attraction and Caren is the manager. It's not the path she wanted to pursue in life and she has mixed feelings about returning to the plantation.
When an migrant worker is found murdered on the grounds, old and new wounds are opened - long buried history and new controversy. And Caren puts herself in the middle....
Locke drew me in immediately. I was of course caught up in the present day whodunit. There are lots of suspects and the path to the answer is winding. But, at the same time, Caren is caught up in the disappearance of her ancestor Jason, one hundred years ago. Locke skillfully weaves the unravelling of both narratives together.
The mysteries are intriguing, but I enjoyed Locke's exploration of race, politics, business, history and yes, love, just as much. The juxtaposition of abolished slavery and the plight of migrant workers today provides much food for thought.
The character of Caren came across as 'real'. Her own uncertainties, her relationship with her daughter, her ex and her coworkers all rang true. All of the supporting characters were just as well drawn. Having worked as a historical interpreter I enjoyed the descriptions of the cast and their dialogue.
Locke's prose are wonderfully rich and atmospheric and brought her settings to life.
"That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle—a stark beauty both irrepressible and utterly incapable of even the smallest nod of contrition—lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, and pressing in its power. She should have known that one day it would spit out what it no longer had use for, the secrets it would no longer keep.”
An invitation to a wedding held on an old plantation in Louisiana provided the spark for The Cutting Season. Read the article in the UK newspaper The Independent.
For this reader, a winner on all fronts. (And I'll be hunting down that first book!) Locke has been added to my 'list'. Read an excerpt of The Cutting Season.
Dennis Lehane has picked The Cutting Season as the first book for his new imprint for Harper Collins.
"I was first struck by Attica Locke's prose, then by the ingenuity of her narrative and finally and most deeply by the depth of her humanity. She writes with equal amounts grace and passion. After just two novels, I'd probably read the phone book if her name was on the spine."