The Cutting Season, by Attica Locke.
Ascension Parish, 2009
It was during the Thompson-Delacroix wedding, Caren's first day on the job, that a cottonmouth, measuring the length of a Cadillac, fell some twenty feet from a live oak on the front lawn, landing like a coil of rope in the lap of the bride's future mother-in-law. It only briefly stopped the ceremony, this being Louisiana and all. Within minutes, an off-duty sheriff's deputy on the groom's side found a 12-gauge in the groundskeeper's shed and shot the thing dead, and after, one of the cater-waiters was kind enough to hose down the grass. The bride and groom moved on to their vows, staying on schedule for a planned kiss at sunset, the mighty Mississippi blowing a breeze through the line of stately, hundred-year-old trees. The uninvited guest certainly made for lively dinner conversation at the reception in the main hall. By the time the servers made their fourth round with bottles of imported champagne, several men, including prim little Father Haliwell, were lining up to have their pictures taken with the viper, before someone from parish services finally came to haul the carcass away.
Still, she took it as a sign.
A reminder, really, that Belle Vie, its beauty, was not to be trusted.
Synopsis from the publisher:
In post-Katrina Louisiana, Caren Gray manages Belle Vie, a sprawling antebellum plantation where the past and the present coexist uneasily. To stay afloat, the estate's owners have turned the place into an eerie tourist attraction complete with full-dress reenactments and carefully restored slave quarters. Outside the gates, a corporation with ambitious plans has been busy snapping up land from struggling families, who have been growing sugar cane for generations, and replacing local employees with illegal laborers. Tensions mount when the body of a female migrant worker is found in a shallow grave on the edge of the property with her throat slashed.
As the investigation gets underway, the list of suspects grows. But when fresh evidence comes to light and cops zero in on a person of interest, Caren has a bad feeling that the police are chasing the wrong leads. Putting herself at risk, she ventures into dangerous territory as she unearths startling new facts about a very old mystery - the long-ago disappearance of a former slave - that has unsettling ties to the modern-day crime. In pursuit of the truth about Belle Vie's history and her own, Caren discovers secrets about both cases that an increasingly desperate killer will do anything to keep hidden.
After Caren hears about the body that was found on the edge of Belle Vie's property line, and one of her own employees is arrested for the crime, her old law-school tendencies kick in and she decides to figure out who killed the laborer. Her ex, Eric, flies up from D.C. to be with her and Morgan, even though he's getting married in just a few short weeks to his fiancee. The story slowly unfurls and also jumps back to the past without becoming obtrusive, which was a great part of the novel, and Caren's relationship with the Clancy's, who own the plantation, is also explored.
I liked this novel a lot, although I did think the ending could have been better. It's very, very detailed, and I found that I needed to read it in a quiet room, so that I could absorb the entire thing without missing anything. The setting of the novel, too, is in post-Katrina, 2009 Louisiana, shortly after President Obama has been elected, and it makes for an interesting time to explore. Caren, as an African-American woman, respects Belle Vie but can never forgets its history, and the fact that one of her own relatives worked the cane fields on its property; the slave quarters out back, though sometimes ignored by wedding guests, make sure that no one else can forget it, either.
The Cutting Season will be in stores on September 18th. 4 stars out of 5.
For Attica Locke's tour dates, click here.
*Disclosure: I received a copy of an uncorrected proof of this novel to review. The opinions expressed here, however, are my own.