Locke melds past and present in an unfolding murder mystery set on a restored Southern plantation managed by a woman with familial ties to Belle Vie and its owners, the Clancy family. Caren Gray walks the property each day before the plantationís activities begin and approaches the slave cabins with her usual reluctance. One was occupied by her great-great-great grandfather, Jason, a slave who disappeared shortly after the Civil War. On this particular morning, Caren has reason for discomfort: she discovers the dead body of a woman, perhaps a migrant worker from the nearby field owned by a corporation with expanding agricultural interests in the area. Worried that the body might bring negative attention to the plantationóBelle Vie is the scene of weddings, tours and community eventsóCaren shares her concerns with the owner.
Now divorced, Gray lives on the plantation grounds with her young daughter, Morgan. Caren has unresolved feelings toward her ex-husband, Eric, an involved father and active participant in Morganís life, though he is about to remarry. With the arrival of police and concerns over the identity of the killer, Caren is hesitant to trust her daughterís safety at Belle Vie and calls on Eric to help her protect Morgan until the unfortunate affair is settled. The eventual identification of the victim yields no clue about the killer or his motive. Meanwhile, Gray intuits deeper problems at Belle Vie, secrets the staff is keeping from her. That these secrets are relevant is made clear when the police arrest a suspect for the murder, a young black employee whose alibi is all but ignored in the haste to close the case. The truth is bred in economic reality, albeit easily obscured in the murky history of a plantation steeped in Southern tradition.
The strength of the novel is highlighted by Grayís complicated relationship with the plantation and her familyís history at Belle Vie, an early friendship with the Clancy boys and their father clouding the issues that must now be faced as Caren senses an immediate threat to her well-being. To be sure, menace lurks nearby, the familiarity of the surroundings causing more distress for a woman confronted by difficult decisions for her daughterís future and her unsettled relationship with Morganís father. The ghost of Jason lingers near, the recent murder exacerbating the mystery surrounding Jasonís fate and the idea of Belle Vie as home. Considering her future in light of the past, Caren carefully examines the reasons Belle Vie has been a place of sanctuary and the ease with which she has avoided planning for the future.
Locke captures the power of place in her novel, the murder a catalyst for a deeper appreciation of the protagonistís life choices and reluctance to change. At the same time, Belle Vie is a dominant presence, from the grandeur of its mythic past to Jasonís mysterious fate, the similarities of Gray living under the thumb of owners who literally control her present. Lockeís consciousness of these factors adds depth to this story, freighted as it is by history, grief and emotional connections, an unexpected rite of passage for a young woman who has grown comfortable with the familiar until it is no longer acceptable. The myth of personal safety put paid in the recent violence and continuing intimidation, Gray refuses to be shackled to relationships no longer in her best interest, ready to engage in the world with a richer sense of self: ďDonít ever open the door to a question if you canít live with the answer.Ē