I should have cut my losses and not finished this book. While this is the type of story that I would typically enjoy, I did not love it. I did not really even like it. It is a murder mystery set in 2009 Louisiana and it also involves a mystery that occurred shortly after the civil war. Our heroine sets out to solve both of them. It sounds good, but it is not.
Caren dropped out of law school and has been adrift. She returns to Belle Vie, the sugar plantation where she was raised and where her mother worked as a cook. Belle Vie is a tourist attraction and a prime venue for weddings and other events. She runs the business for the wealthy Clancy family. She was a playmate of the younger Clancy boy but his ambitious older brother is the one in charge. Caren lives there with staff who have worked there since she was a kid. She now has a 9 year old daughter of her own, from a long-term relationship with one of her law school peers. Outside the plantation proper, the Groveland Corporation harvests sugar cane. One of the Mexican workers is found dead on the property. There are hints of a cover-up by Groveland or by Clancy. It also appears that there is some link between this murder and the disappearance of Caren’s great-great-great grandfather Jason, a free slave who continued to work on the plantation after the civil war. One of the employees at the plantation is writing about Jason’s story for a class at the local community college. Some tangled lies and deceptions later, Caren and her ex-boyfriend are trying to solve the murder as their young daughter appears to be involved. Their lives are in danger and Caren does not know who to trust. Plus, Caren had previously walked away from her life at the plantation and from her mother. She did not return for her mother’s funeral. And then there is the newspaper reporter and also a graduate student writing his dissertation about Belle Vie. Are you following all of this?
I was expecting a different type of novel. I thought that the story would shift between the present and the civil war era plantation. The second section of the novel is even titled “The Olden Days of Belle Vie.” However, the story takes place all in the present. I think it would have been a richer reading experience if both eras were represented. There were a lot of secondary characters, so many that I had some trouble keeping track. Some of them served no purpose, such as the dissertation writing graduate student. I did not really care for Caren. I did not understand her and it was hard to get a handle on her motives. Also, they murder mystery was not too mysterious. Even the writing was not that great. It felt like the author was trying to pack in a lot of information and added unnecessary characters as a way to move the story forward. I think this book would have benefited from a clearer focus and some strong editing.