“Natchez Burning” by Greg Iles Review

natchez burning

Natchez Burning

Author:  Greg Iles

Published:  2014

The fourth book in the Penn Cage series is at times very thrilling and at others very frustrating. Pillar of the community and Penn’s moral center/father, Tom Cage is hiding a secret that will tear his family and possibly the community apart. Beginning in the 1960’s as readers we learn that Penn had a relationship with his African American nurse in the midst of civil war strife in the south. How does that relationship connect to at least give unsolved murders in the community, and how does Tom Cage end up being charged for murder? It gets fairly complicated but Iles manages to keep the whole thing from coming apart.

He does this with a ton of supporting characters, some new to the world and others previously appearing in other Iles books. The new characters include villains millionaire Brody Royal (somebody I found less interesting than the prior villains in this series) and corrupt state trooper Forrest Knox (a much more interesting villain), and journalist Henry Sexton who has spent decades trying to solve the major local civil rights murders. Sexton’s investigation has led him to revelations about Tom Cage, the Golden Eagles (a more militant Ku Klux Klan) and the victims of thirty years of illegal racist activity.

Returning from other Penn Cage books are corrupt district attorney Shad Johnson, journalist and girlfriend Caitlin Masters, and the rest of Penn’s family. Also appearing from other Iles books are John Kaiser (from Dead Sleep and Blood Memory) and Jordan Glass (also from Dead Sleep) to help solve the case. The presence of Kaiser provided some very conflicting feelings from me as a reader. I was excited to see somebody else with drive and intelligence to help solve the mysteries, so we wouldn’t need to depend on Cage and Caitlin to do everything.

Unfortunately, Cage (because his first priority is saving his dad) and Caitlin (because her priority is getting the big story) both refuse to share their information with Kaiser and the FBI and it leads to Kaiser being neutered in his involvement. I hope this is rectified in the two sequels, but I worry it won’t be by the conversation between Cage and Caitlin at the end. As it stands, the two of them are responsible for a ton of deaths and all of the danger they put themselves in by putting their own selfish interest ahead of the entire community and law enforcement.

At nearly 800 pages, this is a pretty slow burn, with long sections of flash back and shifting narratives beyond just Penn Cage’s point of view. The ending is the most thrilling climactic act I’ve read in an Iles book, but overall I’d still give the edge to The Quiet Game for best in the series from start to finish. I’m eager to read the next installment thought as this book resolves one major conflict while still leaving large mysteries and other adversaries at the ready.


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