Star rating - 8/10
The Cutting Season is more a novel with a murder at its heart than a crime novel per se - not that crime novels are inferior, I'm a great fan, but just to give you a more accurate picture of this rich and accomplished book. Attica Locke weaves the thrill of the hunt for a killer, with a fabulous historical lesson in slavery in the American Deep South, and the struggle of one woman's personal battles with the scars of her heritage.
The setting for the story is a former slave plantation and estate in Louisiana, where Caren Gray now lives with her nine year old daughter, and works as the manager of the heritage site it has become. But this ain't no Gone With the Wind. The book opens with the discovery of a the body of a young migrant worker from the neighbouring sugar cane business, whose throat has been brutally cut. Caren gets embroiled in the search for the killer, and for her it quickly gets personal, in both the way the events start to affect her own and her family's lives, and due to the roots her family have with the land and its own dark past.
Caren is relieved and confused when her lawyer ex partner comes to her aid, primarily to make sure that their daughter is safe, but their buried feelings for each other don't stay that way for long. The tension is ratcheted up very skillfully as the drama plays out, with a killer on the loose, and ghosts of the past haunting the vast estate. And the descriptive evocation of the darkness and the foreboding atmosphere of the place, both actual and metaphorical, is palpable.
Gray is a great heroine - smart and daring, capable yet vulnerable at the same time. And through her Locke is able to create a fabulous portrait of slavery, and draw comparisons to the bleak situation modern day migrant workers, and how they are exploited in a very similar contemporary way by the political forces around them. The conflicts of the past are shown to be just as relevant, and shocking, today as they were in the shameful days of slavery.