Greg Iles latest novel, Natchez Burning, scorches the eyes with its story of events in the South, past and present. Iles uses his unique storytelling talents to relate the story of one man delving into his family's history in order to preserve his father's good name and to keep him out of prison. The story spares no one as it relates events of savagery and murder which are sure to shock and shame those who read it.
Penn Cage is the mayor of Natchez and he has been featured in stories by Iles in the past. He is from a very prominent family and his father, Dr. Tom Cage, is pretty much deified by the local population. Yet at the start of Natchez Burning Penn learns his father is likely to be charged in the death of his nurse Viola Turner.
When Penn confronts his father about the circumstances surrounding Viola's death he is met with a stone wall. Tom Cage refuses to talk about the incident, and leaves Penn with little to defend him. And so starts the trail of events that cause Penn to doubt whether or not he ever actually knew the man who raised him.
These charges also create peril for Penn's mother and daughter as well as his fiancée Caitlin, who is the editor of the most prominent newspaper in Natchez. Penn swears to protect each and every one of them but as more and more information from the past arises the danger becomes almost insurmountable.
With the help of a crusading newspaper reporter, Penn uncovers brutal murders that occurred in the '60s that might be tied in with his father's life. A secret group of men who operate under the name of "The Double Eagles" were responsible for numerous killings of African American men and have so far gotten away with the crimes. This group still has members alive in the present time who bore witness or plotted these heinous crimes. They are determined Tom Cage will be found guilty of murder and will, if necessary, murder again to make sure of it.
The descriptions of the brutal acts in the '60s will sear into the readers minds and make them want to turn their eyes away. It is only Iles' talent that makes them unable to do so. He is a master of storytelling and creator of unforgettable characters. These men and women come alive on his pages and demand their story be heard.
Every year produces a number of good books worth reading but it is rare when a book as impactful and daring as Natchez Burning appears. This story is the exception to the rule and its intriguing plot demands to be read from beginning to end.
Once you start this book you will not be able to put it aside. It may burn your fingers but it cannot be dropped. It is compelling reading that awes, repels and entertains all at the same time. It is the book we have been waiting for Iles to write. It has finally arrived and we are all the better for it.
NATCHEZ BURNING is published by Harper Collins. It contains 800 pages and sells for $27.99.
Jackie K Cooper