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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.
*Starred Review* It’s been half a decade since Iles’ last Penn Cage novel, but, oh boy, was it worth the wait! Penn, still getting his feet under him after being elected mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, is shocked to learn that his father, Dr. Tom Cage, is about to be charged with murder in the death of a local woman, a nurse who worked with Dr. Cage back in the 1960s. Stymied by his father’s refusal to discuss the case, Penn digs into the past to uncover the truth and discovers long-buried secrets about his community and his own family. Natchez Burning (the title is surely a nod to the infamous “Mississippi Burning” murder case of the 1960s, and others like it) is the first of a planned trilogy. The story ends in mid-stride, leaving us on the edge of our seats, but that’s not a criticism. This beautifully written novel represents some of the author’s finest work, with sharper characterizations and a story of especially deep emotional resonance, and we eagerly await volume two. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Several of Iles’ thrillers have found their way to best-seller lists, but his new publisher is touting this one (his first novel in five years) as a breakout book and seems ready to put marketing dollars behind that claim. --David Pitt
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Top Customer Reviews
DON’T START WITH NATCHEZ BURNING... it is Book 4. I have attached a picture showing the order in which to read.
I have just now completed the 4th book “Natchez Burning” and cannot wait to download “The Bone Tree”. I just hope he finishes the last book in this series “Unwritten Law” which at the time I researched in which order to read had not yet been released.
I think I have found a new name to add to my favorite author list. Greg Iles I am a fan.
The book is vast- over 800 pages. It is filled with subplots all of which are relevant and great stories in themselves. In a sense, the story is about time and whether it actually changes anything. It is about how tied into our past we are. There is a great deal of suspense and harrowing deaths in this book. It reads so very fast in spite of it’s size. The reader will be totally drawn into these characters. I feel this is the best book I have read in the genre so far this year. Actually, I would have given it an A+ if it weren’t for the very wordy and stock ending of the villain holding the hero captive and telling all. This is the first of a proposed trilogy and, as expected, there are a lot of loose ends. I highly recommend this superb novel.
I was concerned after I read the reviews for this novel...many people said it was too long or too boring.
I only recently started the Penn Cage series and have been reading them in order starting with the Quiet Game, so I knew I could not miss out on Natchez Burning.
Although the novel is almost 800 pages, I was not bored at all!!! Sure it still would have been good if a few chapters were left out, but I feel like you need the whole story to fully understand the characters. It took me some time to read, but I never lost interested.
I would definitely recommend this if you have enjoyed past Penn Cage stories.
Literally can't wait to get the Bone Tree and start reading!