Thanks to Harper Collins and First Reads, I managed to get my hands on a copy of "The Cutting Season" by Attica Locke for reading/review.
She is a new writer and has just one single book "Black Water Rising" which was nominated for a lot of writing awards previously.
"The Cutting Season" showcases more of her fine writing and elevates this book to more than 'just a crime novel'.
Why do I say that?
The lead character, Caren works for a plantation turned tourist attraction, as a manager. There are meta narratives going on here, for those who like to twist their mind over this. The descendant of former slaves being made to work as a manager (slave-driver?) for a troop of people who have not managed to break out of the socio-economical shackles they find themselves bound by and who are caught up in the make-believe world of their ancestors as a means of keeping a living. Clever.
There is a dead body on the second page of the book and then it is dismissed for almost 1/3 of the book as Caren, being a mother, has a life to live. That involves the day to day activities on the plantation, the visitors, her daughter, Morgan as well as coping with the fact that her ex-husband is soon to re-marry.
There is also the issue of one of the actors in the re-enactment who is missing which needs to be resolved. Everything in the book is never rushed or telescoped for the sake of propelling the plot forward. Some might say it draged but if you look at the context of the novel, here is a woman who is trying to multi-task (as all women do time and time again) and there isn't enough time in the world to be a detective and figure out who the killer of the woman might be. It will all be revealed in good time. You get to learn about her as a mother, a lover, a wife and ultimately as a daughter instead.
Meanwhile, the proverbial murder weapon is found and lost and suspects are coming through the cane fields one by one. You have the current owners of the plantation cropping up. You have the nasty cane sugar manager from the plantation nearby. The disbelieving sheriffs.
One has to appreciate earlier writings by John Grisham (and I would recommend John Hart too) to understand how Attica Locke sets up the stage for the final denouncement. She keeps it sane and normal. It works like a movie. You can see each chapter unfold like scenes in a movie and you are compelled to turn the pages to see what might crop up next.
The reminder 1/3 of the book could be edited tighter as most of the different narratives are woven together. It does feel a little hurried after the languid pace at which the first 2/3 were written.
I did sneak a peep at the other reviews of this book on Goodreads and I can understand how people might feel this isn't 'thriller' enough. It actually feels more like a literary work (with a dead body) and updates that country sensibility type novels such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" (and even as a counterpoint to "The Help")
There are no affected characterization in the book. None of the characters feel as if they are in the book for comic relief or as stock characters. You feel the history/tragedy seeping through the pages and haunting everyone in the book, enveloping everyone with a sense of futility and hopelessness, but through their own making.
Enjoy the book, and forget about the dead body. The poor thing will factor into the plot eventually but it is not the be all and end all of this fine piece of writing.
Look at the bigger picture of race, love and history and you will appreciate what this book is trying to do for you.