Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Cutting Season

Rate this book
The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.

Just 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, more 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.

384 pages, Hardcover

First published September 11, 2012

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Attica Locke

13 books1,797 followers
Attica Locke is a writer whose first novel, Black Water Rising, was nominated for a 2010 Edgar Award, a 2010 NAACP Image Award, as well as a Los Angeles Times Book Prize and was shortlisted for an Orange Prize in the UK.

Attica is also a screenwriter who has written movie and television scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros, Disney, Twentieth Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, Dreamworks and Silver Pictures. She was also a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmakers Lab and is a graduate of Northwestern University.

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
2,373 (16%)
4 stars
5,858 (40%)
3 stars
4,994 (34%)
2 stars
1,132 (7%)
1 star
226 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,869 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 116 books156k followers
February 6, 2018
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 more tension but I really liked this novel.
Profile Image for jo.
613 reviews487 followers
February 6, 2013
people will tell you this is like pelecanos and people will tell you this is like lahane. but this is like neither. this is unique 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 quite a bit of effort into preserving the original buildings, including the slave quarter. 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 squinted 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 times."

locke'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 more forthright? why doesn't she cooperate more? 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 squirrely, 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 require. 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 requiring humane conditions of labor and a more 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.
Profile Image for Kerry Kilburn.
89 reviews13 followers
November 26, 2012
I really wanted to like this book more 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 quite 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.
Profile Image for Book Him Danno.
2,396 reviews54 followers
September 27, 2012
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 book.

It 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 together.

I 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 better.

Then 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Krystin | TheF**kingTwist.
456 reviews1,718 followers
August 23, 2022
Book Blog | Bookstagram

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 mystery/thriller, but it reads more like a contemporary novel that explores black history, woven between the murder of a migrant worker in a cane-cutting operation.

The most refined part of the book was the setting - the South and its history came alive on the page. The prose are beautiful and there is a poetic quality to the way the author constructs a sentence. But the mystery is slow to build and disappointing in the reveal, lacking any type of twist or surprise.

I see the intention, but it just missed the mark for me as far as it being a mystery. But I'm picky and awful, so...

⭐⭐⭐ | 3 stars
Profile Image for Heidi.
1,203 reviews130 followers
February 2, 2020

I 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 quite frankly was unnecessary.

I think the book tried to be too many things — I would have preferred learning more 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.
Profile Image for Jess.
503 reviews118 followers
February 7, 2017
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 quote 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 more justice and restitution for Jason. When I flipped through the pages after finishing, my eyes came to the Locke's choice for the beginning quote 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 more of Caren in a future book. I have high hopes to follow her legal career!

What 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Robert.
Author 10 books419 followers
July 27, 2014
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 again.

The story could have been much more 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 bequeathed our fair heroine with more 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 more 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 labor.

Instead, 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 plantation.

Cross-posted at Robert's Reads
280 reviews82 followers
September 27, 2012
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 that(almost) every reviewer (reader) is delusional and has little idea of what makes a good book.
In 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 quick 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 hero(ine). The plot development is awkward and holds little interest. Yet for all these issues, Locke writes well. Unfortunately this book appears more like an opera with only one dazzling aria.

Profile Image for Mara.
1,511 reviews3,675 followers
October 18, 2022
My favorite Attica Locke book so far - less of a noir tone, and more of a slow burn mystery suspense type story. So many rich themes around how the past impacts the present, as well as how oppression shows up across generations in similar and different ways
Profile Image for Fiona.
1,209 reviews222 followers
January 9, 2021
...dark clouds had started a march overhead. Like chunks of ash after a steady burn, they crowded out any hint of light or color on the other side, the sun or blue sky. The wind had picked up, too, whipping cane leaves in the distance, the sound like the percussive whoosh of seeds inside a baby's shaker. There was a storm coming, for sure, rolling up the Mississippi from the Gulf, gaining strength, bringing thunder and lightning, too. The air was sharp with it, the acrid smell of electricity lying in wait for a single, lone spark.

This was an absolutely gorgeous book - the old mansion of Belle Vie sprang right to life, bringing Louisiana with it and keeping me glued to the page.

This is my first Attica Locke, and I'm so relieved to find out the hype is justified - turns out, sometimes a ton of people talk about how great an author is because they really are that great! This book came out (and was set in) a particularly turbulent time for Louisiana and the greater Gulf region - Katrina was still making her effects felt, the 2008 financial crash had hardly faded; and it's against this backdrop that Locke sets a murder on a preserved plantation.

The story puts that all to use without allowing itself to be derailed, and the result is a deeply layered and realistically textured tale - and characters to populate it. Though there's a definite sense of urgency, picking up in places, the overall feeling of reading this was of being allowed to take my time and enjoy what the author had so thoughtfully crafted. It was a very enjoyable experience, and I'm really looking forward to exploring her back catalogue.
Profile Image for Jean.
346 reviews50 followers
January 21, 2016
Caren Gray is the manager of what used to be a sugarcane plantation called Belle Vie. Belle Vie is now used as a tourist attraction/banquet 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 quickly becomes the main suspect and it appears that her young daughter has knowledge of the crime which puts her life in danger.

This 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 quite 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.
Profile Image for Lisa Lieberman.
Author 14 books137 followers
February 18, 2022
I read an interview with Attica Locke where she reveals the inspiration behind this book. She was invited to a wedding on a former plantation in Louisiana. "It was one of the oddest experiences of my life," she said.
I burst into tears the second I stepped foot on that land and what it represented, me standing there in a fancy dress and high heels near a plaque with the names and costs of all the slaves that had been owned there. The bride and groom were an interracial couple. My husband and I are an interracial couple. I waited all night for someone to speak about where we were. How we had gathered on land that represented so much racial violence and pain, how we might remake the land with the power of love. But as the night went on, I realized that the couple had chosen the location simply for its beauty. And it was stunning. But that’s part of its cunning, part of the ways in which it obfuscates history.
French historian Pierre Nora is concerned with precisely this kind of forgetting. Sites of memory--actual places as well as figurative ones--may not commemorate history accurately. Sometimes they are meant to obscure, sometimes they are the result of a selective memory. Always they are imbued with layers of significance.

I was once shown a bronze statue in New Mexico of the conquistador Juan de Oñate, whose brutality against the Indigenous people in Acoma Pueblo was too much, even for the Spanish (which is saying a lot). At one point, Oñate ordered his men to cut off the right foot of twenty-four young men his army had captured. He sent them back to their families, mutilated, as a deterrent. The story was not taught in New Mexico schools, but the descendants of the victims remembered. On the 400th anniversary of the event in 1998, someone cut the right foot off the statue. The authorities welded a new foot on the statue, parked a trailer nearby and posted a cop there, 24/7, to ensure it didn't happen again.

The statue was finally removed, not without incident, in the wake of the BLM protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd last summer. A group of peaceful protesters had assembled in Albuquerque, demanding the removal of the statue. Someone had even brought along the severed bronze foot!
Three men wearing masks carried the bronze foot, taken all those years ago, to the entrance of Tiguex Park near the statue, and briefly held the foot aloft. One of the men was Brian Hardgroove, a bass player for the hip-hop group Public Enemy. Mr. Hardgroove, who lives in New Mexico and has worked as an artist in residence at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, said he came to express support for solidarity between Native Americans and African-Americans.

“Carrying this foot is a powerful act of resistance,” Mr. Hardgroove said.
Armed right-wing vigilantes fired on the protesters, critically injuring one man. It took this act of violence to bring the statue down although, as the governor of Acoma Pueblo noted in regard to the vulnerability of tribal nations in the face of Covid-19 and the heightened risk they face of dying, "Indigenous peoples are still struggling with extreme inequality."

Symbolism will only get you so far.

Where was I? Sites of memory. Locke herself was named by her liberal activist parents after the notorious 1971 prison uprising. "We are men! We are not beasts and we do not intend to be beaten or driven as such," proclaimed one of the leaders not long before his murder at the hands of prison authorities. "What has happened here is but the sound before the fury of those who are oppressed." I cannot help but think that Locke was destined from birth to prevent the past from being obscured.

On the grounds of the plantation where Locke's novel is set stand a set of six cabins, slave quarters: “all that remained of what was once A THRIVING VILLAGE OF SLAVE WORKERS.” These are the words on a bronze marker commemorating the plantation’s history, and the current owner, Raymond Clancy, a descendant of the family that bought the plantation after the Civil War would just as soon tear the unsightly shacks down and put in a parking lot, paving over not paradise (as Joni Mitchell would have it) but the South’s ugly history.

One of these cabins is a site of memory for Caren, the main character of The Cutting Season. Her great-great-great grandfather on her mother’s side, Jason, who disappeared in the 1870s under mysterious circumstances, lived in the cabin. Caren, who grew up on the plantation (her mother worked for the Clancys as a cook before it became an event venue), has come back to work as the manager. She cannot pass by Jason’s cabin without shivering. Small wonder that the modern-day murder of a migrant worker which opens the story occurs at the cabin, connecting the history of slavery to the exploitation of undocumented workers, just like Oñate's foot.

But in the book’s denouement, Locke does what she wished the wedding party had done, mourning the loss of the murdered woman and giving a send-off for Jason staged by the black actors who used to play the parts of slaves in the tourist pageant and the white actors who played the slave owners, all of them eating leftover cake and drinking leftover champagne and dancing to zydeco under twinkling lights on a clear black night.
Profile Image for Roy.
Author 6 books251 followers
January 8, 2013
I love a good mystery. I was intrigued by the mystery within a mystery concept of this book. I may have liked it even more if the narrative went back and forth following the two connected storylines, alternating between the present and slave days, only not via time travel the way Octavia Butler wonderfully did it in Kindred. The fact that Attica Locke sticks to a single setting is by no means a flaw, and like Octavia, Attica is also an excellent writer. That said, I can't say that I was blown away by this novel. I was thoroughly sucked in to the story, but emerged from it wishing there had been a little more. A little more of what I'm not quite sure. Plausibility perhaps. Things wrapped themselves up a bit too neatly and swiftly for my liking. My favorite type of mystery is the kind that's solved due to brilliant deductive reasoning rather than things (like drunken confessions) falling into one's lap. I especially like when I'm given the same clues and information as the character(s) trying to solve the crime, so I have at least a fighting chance at figuring it out on my own. Deciphering between misleading and critical details is my favorite part of reading a mystery if the author plays fair. I found The Cutting Season to be no better than average in my personal scale of judging a whodunnit, but the quality of writing and depth of characterization was excellent, so I'll certainly give other books by Attica Locke a shot and I would not hesitate to recommend this one. What's a 3-star book to me may be a 5-star book to you, and vice versa.
Profile Image for Abby.
201 reviews81 followers
September 26, 2013
My disappointment in “The Cutting Season” is at least partly because I was expecting a different book. I knew Attica Locke's first book, “Black Water Rising,” had been considered for various prizes and I had the sense that she had been anointed a young writer to watch. I knew “The Cutting Season” would open with a dead body showing up on a Louisiana plantation but I wasn't expecting a formulaic mystery. I was expecting a novel steeped in atmosphere, invoking echoes of the past and dealing with complex present-day issues of race and class.

I missed as many clues as any amateur sleuth. The first was the Dennis Lehane imprint. Then there was the author bio: Locke had been a screenwriter before turning to novels and one of the prizes her first book was nominated for was an Edgar. By 50 pages in, I began to suspect what would lie ahead. If “The Cutting Season” followed the template, there would be a plucky heroine with a complicated personal life who would have to solve the case herself because the authorities can't or won't. Our heroine would herself be threatened and the murder will not have been perpetrated by a random mugger or jilted lover but will expose the long-standing nefarious doings of the rich and powerful. Bingo.

Our plucky heroine is Caren Gray, a refugee from law school who has returned as manager to the plantation where she grew up and where her mother was the cook. She has a daughter, an ex and an ancestor who was a slave on this very plantation and was murdered on the grounds. The present-day murder is of a migrant who worked in the cane fields. Caren will of course solve both murders and resolve the personal conflict that has tied her to this beautiful but fraught place.

What undoes “The Cutting Season” is ambition. The novel aspires to more than it delivers. Locke touches on the issues – the preservation of southern plantations not just as history lesson but as profitable venues for expensive weddings; the role of migrant workers in southern agriculture; the good intentions of the post-Civil War Homestead Act – but she doesn't do much more than raise them. The superficial treatment extends to character development as well. Caren's relationship with her mother seems to have been difficult but we get little insight into the reasons. The breakup with her ex seems like a plot device. The rich and powerful are stick figures. Many of the plantation employees are barely sketched.

“The Cutting Season” is adequately written and the author has a deeply felt connection to the novel's setting and its history. Despite my misguided expectations, I would have been won over by a taut thriller. But the novel reads like Locke was trying to produce both a serious examination of the legacy of slavery and a page-turner. The result rates no better than fair on either count.
Profile Image for Ann Woodbury Moore.
550 reviews5 followers
October 19, 2013
This novel is set in Louisiana, at Belle Vie, a former plantation that's now a historical site and tourist attraction. When a migrant worker is found murdered on the property, Caren Gray, Belle Vie's manager, is roped into solving a mystery that has personal connections. The book has a lot of potential, and I continued reading to see what happened. However, there are numerous flaws and it would have benefited from a skilled editor and major rewriting. The plot is overly convoluted, with unnecessary side-tracking (and lack of follow through) and too many coincidences and surprises. The writing is choppy, awkward, and repetitious. There are too many characters to keep track of (especially the Belle Vie employees), and Locke often veers towards simplistic stereotyping. Caren, the heroine, is frustrating--she carries so much emotional and psychological baggage that it overshadows the actual story. Her angst becomes wearisome after a while, and you want to shake her into behaving logically! And, given that she's managed the place for four years, her ignorance of her employees' behavior and activities is astounding. Finally, I thought Belle Vie's imminent sale was unrealistic. A place like this would have a Friends group that would raise plenty of objections, plus it would be booked for weddings, field trips and special events well up to a year in advance. Shutting it down in two weeks doesn't make sense. So--Locke has a great deal of talent and interesting ideas, but in my opinion she is still a writing novice and needs more guidance and training to become successful.
Profile Image for Sara.
295 reviews4 followers
October 22, 2012
There is so much about this book that is good: an interesting setting of historical significance, two mysteries - one contemporary and the other from the past - family drama, star-crossed love, racial, cultural and societal tensions. It is unfortunate that these strong elements don't seem to come together to make a compelling read.

I found the pace was extremely slow-going - I think that was probably intentional in order to create a mood that is at once contemplative and sinister - but the overall effect is less than intriguing. The reader goes along with the main character, Caren, in her diurnal duties, and it seems that nothing is insignificant to this author, who must describe every act in full detail. The mood is generally somber, with a few moments of dread interspersed here and there, but it all feels very flat and emotionless.

Caren herself seems to have a rather limited personality despite her interesting and varied life experiences. It is hard to believe that the men in her life can find her so intriguing. Some of her choices are mind-numbingly stupid to the extent that one questions her intelligence. Her relationships with her late mother, daughter, ex-husband and former friends do not have a ring of truth to them; there are hints at drama, yet the reality comes off as rather bland. The whole novel feels anesthetized.

I think that Ms Locke is a very good writer, she is capable of creating and developing a strong plot, but doesn't seem to be able to pull all the elements together in a way that carries the reader along, demanding our attention, and ultimately satisfying our need for a strong resolution to an interesting story.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,112 reviews1,384 followers
September 19, 2016
The setting for this book was really great. I loved the idea of setting a mystery/thriller at a former plantation turned plantation-themed tourist attraction; the haunted quality of such a place could only increase the level of menace in the proceedings. And that aspect of the book worked very well. In addition, the characters were quite vivid for a book of this type. Unfortunately, it seemed to take forever for anything to happen, and I got frustrated with the way the main character withheld possible clues from the police for seemingly no reason (not counting —I understood why she hid that, and that particular element of the book was quite effective). I was also able to figure out the culprit reasonably early on, which I was excited about, but let's get real—I'm usually never able to figure out the culprit, so if even I could do it, it was unfortunately probably a pretty obvious solution for any reader.

I wish I could say I'm willing to give Attica Locke's other books a try, but given how this one didn't live up to its potential for me, I don't think I'll be reading her others anytime soon.
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,030 reviews330 followers
October 26, 2016
Locke gave a beautifully written story and her vivid descriptions allowed me to easily visualize the setting. The plot is interesting and the setting is beautifully presented in The Cutting Season. For me this was a story where the setting and plot outshone the development of the characters. I had some trouble understanding Caren's actions at times and I would have liked to have had more details and motivation for some of the other characters. There were also some slower moments, but they didn't keep me from enjoying the story.

The past has a direct influence on the present in The Cutting Season in a way that is unique to stories set in the south. Locke took full advantage of the unique history as well as the present social and economic challenges surrounding the upkeep and sustainability of former plantations in modern times. The parallels between slaves and current migrant workers, as well as the painful relationship of African Americans and their links to slaves who were once bound to these places are gripping points of tension as well. My favorite passage of the book actually happened within the first few pages: "Still, she took that as a sign. A reminder, really, that Belle Vie, it's beauty, was not to be trusted. That beneath the loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but 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." How could you not want to keep reading after being given that right off the bat?

If you are looking for an interesting thriller set in the south, that is rich in history and conflict, I would definitely recommend picking up The Cutting Season. It's going on my favorite reads list.

You can find more from me at
•(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)•
Profile Image for Carol.
824 reviews480 followers
August 12, 2012
My sincere thanks to Harper Collins for provinging the E-galley to be released in September 2012.

This is a mystery plain and simple. Or is it? simple, that is? Right from the get go there is a body and the presumption of wrong doing though it needs to be proved. And there's a storyline that goes back many, many years that involves a missing free slave but no body.

What I loved about The Cutting Season by Attica Locke was the peeling back of generational history and seeing what was, the post civil-war freed slaves and what is, the lives of their offspring.

Caren Gray manages a plantation, Belle Vie, in Louisiana, for the Clancy family. Caren is the ancestor of former slaves who worked the plantation. Caren duties on the plantation are far different than her ancestors who worked the land back then. And yet Caren works the land still, giving tours and hosting wedding receptions, still not the owner, but an employee. Not so the neighboring farm where migrant workers work sugar cane mcuh like the days when slaves were living here. One of these, a woman, is found dead on Belle Vie land. Caren gets caught up in finding out what caused her demise.

Caren, a single mother, is a solid, strong character, outshining the plantation and its lush setting that many reviewers have mentioned. In a slowly building, well plotted story we learn a great deal about Caren. We examine the relationship she shares with her daughter, Morgan, the non-husband, Eric, Morgan's dad, and in the end I felt they all rang true. I liked how Locke portrayed Caren and the role she wrote for her to play.

Reading The Cutting Season I couldn't help being struck by the parallel stories of the former slaves, Caren's family that were freed, and the present day migrant workers. What's changed​?
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,633 followers
May 21, 2013
This is an intriguing murder mystery set at a Louisiana plantation in 2009. A migrant worker for a sugar corporation was found killed, but it seems there is another mystery also unfolding, one that goes back to the years after the Civil War. The plantation is now part of a tourist attraction, and the woman who manages it, Caren Gray, has deep family ties to the place. The police have a suspect in the migrant worker's death, but Caren thinks something else is going on.

In addition to providing a good story, I liked that the novel explored race relations in modern Louisiana, including feelings toward immigrant workers and issues of social class. Attica Locke's pacing was good and I was always eager to get back to the book to see where the investigation would go next. I enjoyed The Cutting Season so much I'm planning to read her previous novel, Black Water Rising.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,064 reviews697 followers
November 13, 2012
This novel is social commentary disguised as a murder mystery. It prompts readers to contemplate themes of race, class, economics and the importance of historical events in a modern society. The setting is an antebellum plantation that has been preserved as a historical event center where tourists and wedding parties can be entertained with reenactments of historical plantation events by actors dressed in period costumes.

The social and economic status of people working at the facility and surrounding economy seem to have advanced up a level from that of their ancestors with the new bottom strata now being filled by undocumented workers from Latin America. The manager of the facility, a descendant of slaves, supervises a staff that includes at least one who is undocumented. She in turn is hired by and accountable to the absentee owners of the facility who are descendants of the white 19th century operators of the plantation. The plot centers around the mystery surrounding the discovery of a murdered undocumented worker from a neighboring sugarcane farm. In the process of solving this mystery the readers are introduced to the human toll of inequality in America.

The site manager is very much aware of the unpleasant irony of being both a descendant of slaves and also in a managerial position that is part of the power structure that is unfair to the virtual slaves of this generation (i.e. undocumented workers).

Is history a guide to a better tomorrow or a yoke around our necks that prevents us from moving forward? This books suggests that sometimes the weight of that yoke can prevent society from advancing.

This is a well written book even if judged solely on the basis of the murder mystery genre. There are scary blood curdling scenes all through this book to keep readers well entertained--even those who don't notice the social commentary that I've featured in this review. I don't normally give five start to books in this genre, but I've made an exception in this case.
Profile Image for Britany.
952 reviews413 followers
October 10, 2018
Belle Vie is an old plantation in New Orleans that now functions as a glimpse into the past-- complete with re-enactments, a library and a museum of sorts. Oh- they also hold events- weddings, conferences, and dinners.

Caren Gray grew up on this plantation with her mother. Her ancestors were once slaves living on the plantation and the history never leaves Caren as she finds herself back at Belle Vie with her daughter. One morning a body shows up on the fence line between the plantation and the sugar cane fields next door. Was it murder? Who was involved? How does the past and present tie together?

This was a solid effort, but just didn't connect for me. The writing was ok- weak in parts and un-interesting in others. Locke skipped around a bit and spent too much time on details that didn't matter instead of the meat. It was good but not great. In a world filled with stellar murder mysteries, this one fell a bit flat.
Profile Image for Shirleynature.
199 reviews59 followers
July 19, 2020
Brilliant! This is a haunting & compelling contemporary mystery rooted in the antebellum history of a former plantation in Louisiana.
Caren is the heroine, strong and likeable yet vulnerable & fallible. I want this to continue as a series.

Profile Image for Larraine.
921 reviews14 followers
August 26, 2013
It's rare to find both a good mystery and a literary novel rolled into one. This is the second book by Ms. Locke, the first book in the Dennis Lehane Imprint. Supposedly he chooses the books himself. I read the previous one, Visitation Street, and really enjoyed it. It was was excellent.

This is actually Ms. Locke's second book. Somehow I missed her first, Black Water Rising, but it's now in my TBR pile. In the meantime, this one is due back at the library soon, plus I'm sure there are some eager readers wanting to read it anyway. I really enjoyed this on so many levels.

First of all, it's not just one mystery but two. Plus, there is a rather wonderful irony at the end as well. In the story opening, we are greeting with a story of a cottonmouth snake dropping from a tree in the middle of a wedding ceremony.

This is our introduction to Belle Vie, a lovely old plantation in Louisiana that hosts weddings and other events as well as tourists, school children and more. They put on a badly written play meant to evoke the Old South. The house is beautiful and rich in history. There are also some rather creepy slave quarters and a school house.

Just outside the gates, a corporate farming group called Groveland is raising sugar cane. Forward thinkers are worried about the deterioration of the Louisiana coastline. Sugar is the next big thing.

Ironically, of course, the person who manages the plantation is an African-American woman named Caren Gray who is the daughter of the former cook for the plantation. A young woman from El Salvador, Ines, is found murdered. She's the mother of 3 children to whom she sends money and gifts. One of the plantation employees becomes a suspect. Ines had found some bones where they were working. She reported it to her boss, but is troubled by what seems a lack of concern about the bones.

Caren is confident that Donovan is not the murderer, but there's not much she can do. She has a 9 yr old daughter, the only thing left of a failed relationship. She's come "home," but it's not an easy relationship even though she played in the house - up to a point where she wasn't a cute little girl anymore.

It's an interesting story that unfolds in a somewhat slow, measured pace. The reader can't help but wonder how Caren can be so dense about some things, but then again, she's living her life with a lot of things to occupy her mind including her daughter, Morgan's, father who has taken a few days off from his high powered job in the Obama White House, to help Caren sort out what Morgan may or may not have seen.
Profile Image for Melanie.
548 reviews292 followers
September 30, 2017
I expected from the Cutting Season to be a deeply atmospheric book invoking images of the deep south of Lousiana drawing from the tension between the past and the present. It started out that way but sadly for me it just could not maintain its momentum.

Caron, who manages a former plantation as a historic site for the owners, has actually grown up on the plantation and in fact, her ancestors were slaves on the plantation. Now, she organises school trips, a jaunty little play about the history of the plantation, weddings and functions. Then one day a dead body is found on the grounds and the police comes along, suspicion very quickly falls on one of Caren's employees, who is a black man.

As I said, I simply expected more from the book, about half way through, I thought that I need to check if the author is a screenwriter as so much felt like screenwriting. There were "establishing shots", strange notes that would be in a script for POV and the dialogue was often set up like you would have it in a script. I think it would make a brilliant movie, but as a novel it just did not really work that well.

For the second half, I started to cringe every time, I came across yet another declarative passage. I just could not care for Caren or her daughter and the direction the story then took felt a bit ridiculous. Especially the climatic scene at the end.

Not a bad read by any stretch of the imagination, but just not that great.
Profile Image for Kelly Hager.
3,097 reviews129 followers
September 2, 2012
This could probably best be described as a literary thriller. Normally when I hear that, I think something that's a little boring, but that's not the case here at all. The emphasis is more on "literary" but "thriller" is very well represented, too.

Instead, The Cutting Season is incredibly well-written but it's also very gripping and hard to put down.

I'd never read Attica Locke before (she has one other novel, Black Water Rising) but when I heard that this was the first selection for Dennis Lehane's new Harper imprint, I knew I wanted to read it. It almost didn't even matter what it was about. It makes perfect sense that he'd pick this book, because the writing style is very similar. His books are more neo-noir, I would say (especially the mysteries; not so much The Given Day) and this is almost more Gothic than anything else.

One problem with thrillers is that the characters can sometimes be underdeveloped because the author (understandably) want to get to the action sequences as soon as possible. That isn't true in this case; I almost immediately fell in love with Caren and spent most of the novel nervous for her and what she was learning.

This is a fun novel, yes, but there's nothing guilty about it.
Profile Image for Debbie "DJ".
350 reviews398 followers
December 7, 2012

I really enjoyed this book. It was full of rich history and gave me a real sense of life on a plantation, what that must have been like for slaves also. I love how it is set in the modern day, with a big mystery and murder intrigue. My eyeballs were flying off the pages toward the end. What a great job of mixing together so many different elements and time periods into one great book that brings it all together in such an exciting way.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,869 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.