The Cutting Season

by Attica Locke

I’ve just finished re-reading The Cutting Season, one of my all-time favorite mysteries, by one of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Attica Locke.

You may know Attica Locke by her Hollywood credentials. She was writer and producer on Fox’s TV drama “Empire” about a family of entertainment moguls. One critic said Empire combined the bling of Dynasty with drama of King Lear. It’s on my COVID quarantine viewing list, up there with The Crown.

This stunning book Cutting Season combines, the murder mystery, thriller, and family saga genres with historical fiction, proving what Faulkner once said about the south, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” And in The Cutting Season, it doesn’t even stay buried.

The protagonist Caren Gray works as an event planner for weddings and such on an elegant, ante-bellum, Louisiana plantation called Belle Vie where her mother was once the cook. Caren’s history with the owners goes back to before the Civil War. Her relatives were slaves on Belle Vie.

The Cutting Season opens with one of the most stunning images I’ve ever read: It was during the Thompson-Delacroix wedding, Caren’s first week on the job, that a cotton-mouth, measuring the length of a Cadillac, fell some twenty feet from a live oak on the front lawn, landing like a coil of rope on the lap of the bride’ future mother in law.

Wow! I agree with the writer Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) who says he’d probably read the phone book if the “spine had her name on it.” She’s just that good.

The cottonmouth was dispatched with quickly, but the real danger begins for Caren when the body of a migrant worker is found on an adjacent property where illegal workers have been brought in to cut cane. Caren is certain that a local boy is being framed by the police for a murder he didn’t commit. Risking her own life and the safety of her family, Caren finds herself in increasing danger as she uncovers old secrets and gets closer to the real killer.

This book is atmospheric, a southern gothic page-turner. It is morally demanding and makes you think, feel and empathize. Something we could all use right about now.

Cutting Season is a wonderful and rare story by an extraordinarily talented writer.