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Natchez Burning: A Novel (Penn Cage Novels) Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 29, 2014
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, May 2014: Greg Iles has written a sprawling, gothic, suspenseful, emotional, page-turner of a book. In doing so, he’s confronted the darkest secrets of his home state of Mississippi. Shifting between the 1960s (not a pretty period in Mississippi history) and the present, it’s the story of a respected doctor accused of murdering his former nurse, an African-American woman who has returned to Natchez after many years up north. The doctor’s son, Penn Cage (featured in previous Iles novels), is a former prosecutor, now the mayor of Natchez, whose attempts to clear his father bring him face to face with a fringe KKK sect, men who personify the South’s historic evils. Packed to the point of overflow with racial politics, family secrets, illicit love, corruption, racism, brutality, and fear, this 800-page book is really a father-son story. Yet, as Iles suggests in the opening pages: “Perhaps we expect too much of our fathers.” Though it’s sometimes easier not to acknowledge life’s most uncomfortable truths, as one character puts it, “Sooner or later, everything comes to the surface, doesn’t it?” Smart, funny, and sexy, you’ll keep thinking about it long after the violent final pages. --Neal Thompson
Guest Review by Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Paranoia, Buried Secrets, and the forthcoming Suspicion (On Sale 5/27/14).
Greg Iles’s long-awaited new novel is a big deal, and I do mean big. In this age of 140-character tweets and text messages, there’s something wonderfully old-fashioned about the pleasure of losing yourself in the fully realized, immersive fictional world of a 788-page story. I’m reminded of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove (945 pages), or the great sagas of Herman Wouk, James Michener, and James Clavell. The best big novels, like Iles’s instant classic, Natchez Burning, pull you in so deep that you’re utterly transported; they don’t seem long at all.
I’ve always been a big fan of Greg Iles’ work. From Spandau Phoenix to Turning Angel, and his most recent, The Devil’s Punchbowl (just to name a few favorites), he never repeats himself. He’s a graceful writer who knows how to tell a gripping, fast-moving story—without sacrificing texture or fully fleshed-out characters.
The central plot of Natchez Burning starts with Mayor Penn Cage, an attorney Iles introduced in 1999’s The Quiet Game, learning that his father, the town’s most beloved physician, is about to be charged with murder. The victim? Dr. Cage’s former nurse, Viola Turner, who came home to Natchez to die after a nearly 40-year absence.
Did his father assist in Viola’s suicide? Penn would believe it: his father did the same for Penn’s own wife when she was dying of cancer, years before. But as the town’s corrupt district attorney pursues the case, it becomes clear that Viola’s death was no gentle passage into that good night. In fact, a crusading local reporter has video evidence that Viola died in pain and fear. Penn refuses to believe his father had anything to do with that.
Iles weaves this multi-generational web like a master, keeping Penn Cage at the center even as we see his father, Dr. Tom Cage, in both past and present, along with the many citizens of Natchez and its sister community in Louisiana, just across the Mississippi River.
Natchez Burning is an epic, a saga, but it’s also a thriller. We feel the panic and terror of young Jimmy Revels as he walks into the Double Eagles’ trap in 1968. And the rage and despair of Lincoln Turner, Viola’s son, who doesn’t know the truth of his own origins. We feel Caitlin Masters’ desperate need to tell the story through the newspaper she publishes. Sustaining all of this tension for almost 800 pages is no small feat. It’s a testament to Greg Iles’s power as a storyteller.
Iles doesn’t tie up all the loose ends. Natchez Burning is just the first installment in what promises to be an extraordinary trilogy built upon the premise that, in some pockets of the South, the Civil War hasn’t ended. “Appomattox hadn’t ended anything,” a character thinks early in the story, in a scene set in 1968. “[It] had merely heralded an intermission. ” As William Faulkner said (and this book’s narrator quotes), “The past is never dead. It’s not even past. ” In Natchez Burning, the sins and unpunished crimes of the generations who fought integration and civil rights are visited upon their children and grandchildren, claiming victims almost half a century later.
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Top Customer Reviews
Having now finished Natchez Burning, the first installment of a trilogy, I have to say that, while not being a perfect read (but, then again, what book is?), I found it to be a mostly captivating, richly entertaining, highly memorable book. Natchez Burning is, in my opinion, Iles's most ambitious novel to-date, and one that not only delivers the suspense, action and twists and turns fans have come to expect from his books, but one that serves as a historical document centering on the racial politics of the last fifty years.
Without getting too deeply into its plot, Natchez Burning is a massive-sized book (788 pages in the ARC I read) that delivers a compelling narrative and emotional conflicts that goes well beyond what Iles has delivered in his past books. In brief, Natchez Burning has Penn Cage, the former prosecutor and now mayor of Natchez, attempting to save his father -- the beloved doctor, Tom Penn -- who is accused of murdering a former African-American nurse he worked with in the early 1960's. In doing so, Penn uncovers historical secrets that could reveal racial crimes that were thought to be long buried. In reading this tale, I became very engrossed in Penn's precarious situation and in his attempt to accomplish his goal without sacrificing those he loves most.Read more ›
The result is one of the toughest novels by Greg Iles for his fans to read. Clearly, Iles is a big believer in the mission behind this book: shedding light on the injustice of justice denied to the victims of 50-year-old civil rights murders, which is one of the chief plot elements in the 800-page tome, the first of a promised trilogy. But it's not the only one, and therein lies part of the problem. Because the lunatic wing of the white supremacists of the 1950s and 1960s may be aging, but their sons and heirs are a new generation of corrupt cops and businessman in Natchez and across the border in Louisiana, meaning that the Cage family and their allies -- Penn's fiancee, newspaper publisher Caitlin Masters and crusading weekly newspaper editor Henry Sexton -- are up against enemies everywhere they turn. It almost felt like reading an action movie -- especially the over-the-top bloodbath that ends the book.
I'm calling this 3.5 stars, since I did manage to get into the narrative about halfway through, and was interested enough to keep reading fairly consistently until I turned the final pages. But it wasn't always satisfying.
It's not just about the length. I've read 800 page novels that felt much shorter, because they were so well structured and carefully paced, and that still left me hungering for more.Read more ›
This is not what most Greg Iles fans know him for; it is not light fiction peppered with some southern history, rather it is a journey that the reader needs to be prepared to take. At times it is unpleasant because of its factual background and at times, rather depressing because we're reminded of a time in our history that many would rather deny or forget. However, Iles grabs the reader by the nape of the neck and forces us to confront the past as it really existed and not as some would like us to believe.
About one third of the way into the book I was reminded of the writing style of James A. Michener which can be a good or a bad thing depending upon your point of view. To me it meant this wasn't going to be a short and fun ride and then move onto the next bestseller. No, to the extent a story can, this was going to require a commitment to follow not only this book, but the intended complete trilogy, to the final conclusion.
The book isn't perfect. It is at times wordy, overly descriptive, slow to engage and frustrating. However, these minor imperfections are offset by a griping story, prose that is above and beyond anything Iles has ever done and the ability to draw the reader into a separate universe where only the hours spent reading this book are counted.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a great Greg Iles novel! I both read it and listened to it on CD in my car. It's Book 1 of a trilogy and as soon as I finished it (800 pages! Read morePublished 34 minutes ago by Jamazon
Excellent read!! Just finished The Bone Tree by the same author. Just as good!!Published 20 hours ago by Kathy Stelik
Excellent. Keeps you reading. Am now reading the bone tree. It may be fiction but you can be sure similar atrocities happened. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Richard M. Kerrigan
Great read. Intricate plot. The author gets you super involved with the characters. You are rooting for them and their outcome. Can't put it down.Published 1 day ago by Amazon Customer
Excellent. Isles has an extraordinary ability to hold my interest. I read a lot and he is my favorite author at this time. Read morePublished 2 days ago by JES
Took me a while to get into this and it did drag in spots but still a wonderful read. Very enlightening too. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Marie Kohan-Greenstein