Review: Mississippi Blood – Greg Iles

5 of 5 stars

Series: Natchez Burning 3

My version: Hardback
Fiction Thriller
Harper Collins
2017
Bought

The endgame is at hand for Penn Cage and his family in this final volume in the epic Natchez Burning trilogy, set in modern-day Natchez, Mississippi – Greg Iles’ bold and ambitious saga of blood, honour and revenge.

Shattered by grief and dreaming of vengeance, Penn Cage sees his world collapsing around him. The woman he loves is gone, his principles have been irrevocably compromised, and his father, Dr. Tom Cage, once a pillar of the community, is about to be tried for the murder of a former lover. Most terrifying of all, Dr. Cage seems bent on self-destruction and has frozen Penn out of the trial, preferring to risk dying in prison to revealing the truth to his son.

For decades, Dr. Tom Cage has had a second son known to almost no one, the product of an affair with his African-American nurse, Viola Turner. It is this bitter son – Penn’s half brother – who set in motion the case against Dr. Cage. But a murder charge may be the least of Tom’s worries. In the 1960’s South, Viola Turner became a nexus point between Penn’s father and the Double Eagle group, a savage splinter cell of the KKK. Now, led by psychopath Snake Knox, the surviving Double Eagles will stop at nothing to keep their past deeds buried, and they mean to ensure that Dr. Cage either takes the fall for them or takes his secrets to an early grave.

Unable to trust anyone – not even his own mother – Penn joins forces with Serenity Butler, a writer investigating his father’s case. Together, Penn and Serenity, a former soldier, desperately battle to crack the Double Eagle group and discover the secret history of both the Cage family and the South itself, risking the only thing they have left to gamble: their lives.

Wow!

Just incredible. From start to finish. A real thrill(er) to read and prise and find out the answers that have swirled around since The Bone Tree. Even then…well, I think there could well be room, possibility, for a continuation. If what I’m thinking of is right.

This book has a lot to do and a lot to live up to. Natchez Burning set the standard and the bar for ‘ho’ley shit!’-reading, continued and then some by The Bone Tree an absolutely, unbelievably, incredible, three day, 800-odd page, blinding, rush of a read, where – as I think I noted at the time – my jaw was very rarely off the floor. I will admit then, that there was a nagging, at the edges of my anticipation, of trepidation. Could Mississippi Blood live up to The Bone Tree, provide the satisfactory answers, and be the finish an incredible series had led us to expect, to want. Yes, yes and yes yes yes. It is, it does, whatever. It even had me thinking he’d gone wrong and missed a trick or two until about 1/3 from the end, maybe later, when he blew me away and basically said “and that’s why you don’t write books, matey!” 

When you’re done, when you’ve come down and calmed down, just take a moment or two to reflect on what he’s done here. This trilogy, (I was a newcomer to Greg Iles before Natchez Burning), part of a whole series of novels featuring Penn Cage and his family, is an absolutely monumental piece of creative work. What is it? 2,400-odd pages however you count them. An awe-inspiring feat of marshalling strands of story into a whole, keeping it focussed and on the money the whole way. Greg Iles is a real, real writer. I don’t know how to describe it, I was transported, sucked into the book and its world until everything in my world me disappears and there is just the story around me. I’ll risk saying, that there hasn’t been a better trilogy than this and that there never will be. I can’t think how there ever could be.

I have seen talk of a TV series, maybe done under Amazon’s umbrella. I hope so. I’d buy that.

Speaking of buying things…I got hold of an ARC to read, but bought both the UK (featured at the toip) version and the US version in hardback. I’ve subsequently managed to get hold of a US version of Natchez Burning, though I originally read the UK paperback. Which explains the discrepancy in covers. I think you can see two of the covers at this link, which should be the Speesh Reads Instagram.

You can buy Mississippi Blood from Booksplea.se

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Review: The Double Game by Dan Fesperman

The Double Game
5
of 5 stars

My version:
Paperback
Fiction Thriller, Spies, Cold War
Corvus Books
2012
Bought

A few years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, spook-turned-novelist Edwin Lemaster reveals to young journalist Bill Cage that he’d once considered spying for the enemy. For Cage, a fan who grew up as a Foreign Service brat in the very cities where Remaster set his plots, the story creates a brief but embarrassing sensation.

More than two decades later, Cage, by then a lonely, disillusioned PR man, receives an anonymous note hinting that he should have dug deeper. Spiked with cryptic references to some of his and his father’s favourite old spy novels, the note is the first of many literary breadcrumbs that soon lead him back to Vienna, Prague and Budapest in search of the truth, even as the events of Remaster’s past eerily – and dangerously – begin intersecting with those of his own.

Why is beautiful Litzi Strauss back in his life after 30 years? How much of his father’s job involved the CIA? Did Bill, as a child, become a pawn? As the suspense steadily increases, a long stalemate of secrecy may finally be broken…

The (three now) books I’ve read by Dan Fesperman (The Arms Maker of Berlin, The Small Boat of Great Sorrows) have been excellent and this is no different. If you want to read how this sort of thing is done, read this. Or one of the others.

I’m thinking there’s a general feeling around right now, that spies and spying is/are back. In literary circles as well as real life. With the US President hopefuls and hangers on determined to glorify in their own stupidity (that’s not really relevant, I just put it in because they’re all dip-shits – you know it), and with dumb fuck Putin determined to show us the size of his wanger and recreate the tensions of the Cold War, there’s never been a better time to be a spy in reality, or a better one to be a reader, or re-reader, of spy novels. I think it’s a reaction to the high tech life we have now. Where you have in your pocket, a  computer powerful enough that George Smiley would have believed needed a whole floor of The Circus to house. A reaction, as in you look (longingly) back to a time when it was a lot more simple, this spying game. They were over there, we were over here. The technology of spying was a piece of chalk and a drawing pin or two and you had to use your brain (remember them?) to figure out and analyse what the other lot were up to. This book is in many ways, a homage to all that. Especially as the main man’s father is a collector of all the classic spy authors and has passed on his love of the genre and book collecting in general, to his son.

I think most spy novel lovers – certainly the authors do – miss the Cold War.  So, I suppose one point of interest, for the aficionado anyway, will be trying to work out how much of it is true. And/or, who the ‘fictional’ characters are based on. The question that occurred to me under way, was how much of a book written by an ex-CIA/MI6 operative IS fiction? Stella Rimmington’s books sprang to mind. I haven’t read any as yet, though I imagine her books need to go through some sort of ‘fact cleaning’ process before publication, but even so, when the maxim is always to write about what you know, there HAS to be a fair amount of stuff that someone somewhere will recognise. But I digress.

It becomes a trip down memory lane for the characters and the reader. Down the dimly-lit back alleys and streets of Cold War eastern Europe. Back in time to chalk marks, dead letter drops and losing your followers by doubling back, rather than just taking the battery out of your mobile phone. For lovers of good, old-fashioned spy novels (as clearly was the intention), the pre-fall of the Berlin Wall versions that is, like me, it is a hypnotic trip in a time machine to Cold War hog-heaven. In parts bitter sweet, others enveloping, always somehow reassuring – I read it so quickly I didn’t have time to take notes. I had to write down my impressions when I was done. This is they.

The main character’s naivety is believable, he was a child at the original time and is only now awakening to see what his past really was. He, as we discover more about his father with each chapter, and all the time knowing he must be holding something back. The way this is done, reminded me of Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree (and interestingly, both fathers are called ‘Cage.’ His lost love, Litzi is also very believable. Long love’s gone, I can tell by the way that you carry on… Perhaps the weakest link (the only weak link, on reflection) is the man behind it all’s motivation for doing it like this. His given reason is logical enough, however, compared to the complexity of much of the rest, it is weak. And although he professes it to have been easy (to set up) “just a few phone calls” it’s both hard to see how it could have been and how he – even with help – could have done it. Physically. You’ll see.

As The Gin Blossoms once said the past is gone but something might be found to take its place.”

You can buy The Double Game at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

The Arms Maker of BerlinThe Small Boat of Great SorrowsNatchez BurningThe Bone Tree

 

 

 

 

Me, on Goodreads

Review: Blood Tracks by Matt Hilton

Blood Tracksout of 5 shades

Grey and Po 1

My version:
Hardback
Fiction Crime, thriller
Severn House
2015
Bought direct from the author (!)
Signed

When her local District Attorney offers her a considerable sum of money to track down state witness Crawford Wynne, private investigator Tess Grey is in no position to refuse. Wynne is one of the few men still alive who can help the State nail vicious drug lord Alberto Suarez. But Tess is not the only one trying to track Wynne down. Suarez’s psychotic brother Hector has been hunting and butchering anyone who is a danger to his brother.

Tess needs help and there’s only one man she can turn to: Southern renegade ex-con Nicholas Villere, known to all as Po. Po always gets his man, but he has never been teamed with a woman before. Both have their own agenda for taking on this case, and neither fully trusts the other. But of one thing they are sure: if they don’t cover each other’s backs, they are both going to die…

I’m a big Matt Hilton fan. He is an excellent writer and a really nice person on what the young people of today seem to be calling ‘social media.’

I’ve read three of his Joe Hunter books, got many more waiting and been consistently impressed. This book is a new venture, and different from the Joe Hunter books, in that there are two main characters sharing the limelight – and one of them is a woman.

He (Matt) is back on familiar ground, the USA, though with a story set a little further south than the Joe Hunter ones I’ve read so far. And my initial feelings were, that his feel for and communication of the nuances of the southern States, was excellent. In the initial stages, it was this that captured and exited me most. As with all new ventures, books that are clearly destined to be the starts of series, there is some background work to be done. Filling in of character and motive. However, from my point, Matt wisely keeps this to a minimum. So it doesn’t block up the story and of course, gives him some wiggle room in later books.

The story fair rattles along and there’s barely a moment wasted in getting us where we need to be. Once they get down to Mississippi, you can fairly feel the heat and the tension rising accordingly. There are enough twisty-turney bits and interesting additional characters to stock several volumes. Maybe some of them will.

He is of course taking a chance writing a woman lead character after the Joe Hunter books, which are very masculine. OK, there is a little skirt-interest in those stories, but there’s never any doubt about who is wearing the trousers in those books. He pulls it off with great style, ‘Tess’ is an interesting character, with a background and plausible motives. She could let herself go a bit more, but that’ll come, I’ve no doubt. Po, is another matter. He’s a strong male character and the hard part writing him, must have been not to make him Joe Hunter 2.0. He’s not. Another one with an intriguing and interesting background and ripe for development further down the line.

There are some points where character development could have been a little less clumsy. Kind of like letting actions speak louder than words. Letting what the character does signal what they are like, rather than the author stating it openly, again and again, just to make sure you got the point. And…the romance…I’m giving nothing away, you’ve figured what the possibilities might be, in reading the synopsis. I didn’t go for it. And I can’t see where it’s going to go over the course of several further volumes. It’s too soon and too constricting for the rest of the series. I could sketch out two or three possibilities here and now – and I shouldn’t be able to. It wasn’t really believable enough, too inevitable and too TV series got-to-fit-it-all-in-an-hour’s-show (minus advertising breaks)-like, Stockholm Syndrome-lite and predictable.

Having said that, this book actually says several very important things: Matt Hilton can write. Very well. He can write just what he wants to, he and his books are/were not a flash in the pan. And the Grey and Po series is going to be one that will build into a series as exciting and essential as Joe Hunter.

Buy Blood Tracks at The Book Depository

Related reviews:
Dead Men's DustJudgement and WrathSlash and BurnNatchez Burning

 

 

 

Me on Goodreads

Review: The Bone Tree

The Bone Tree

The Bone Tree by Greg Iles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s almost a waste of time trying to describe this book. But I’ll waste – hopefully – a little of your time, then you can go out and get stuck into it and/or, if you haven’t read Natchez Burning already, read that. Then this. The best book I’ll read all year, by a Mississippi mile.

It is, as they say, a stunning achievement. Mainly for being 800 utterly gripping pages long, that held me spellbound from start to finish. I shit you not; my face was set to stun, my jaw on the floor the whole time. Not just with shocks, twists and ‘…the FUCK?!!” the whole time, but at the truly awesome scale of the achievement Greg Iles is in the middle of with this series. How on earth he’s done/doing it, I don’t know. He’ll need to take a few years off writing after this, no doubt. His brain must be full. And saying that, if you’re a writer writing in the same genre as Mr Iles; give up, stop now and find another job. You’ll never, ever (ever) do better than the Natchez series (I’m not actually sure if it has a title).

What’s it about? So much. You do need to have read book one, Natchez Burning, that is essential. The background knowlege from that, will allow this to hit you like a runaway truck. I can’t sum it up. The action is compressed, like a pressure-cooker of emotions and shocks, into just a few hours. The Bone Tree, overlaps slightly, by and hour or two, with the end of Natchez Burning, there is a quite lengthy ‘explaination’ built in, to get you familiar with the events, but you’re going to wish you had read it and kick yourself if you haven’t.

The Natchez town doctor, Tom Cage, stands accused of killing his ex-nurse, a black lady, his son the mayor, gets involved, his father goes ‘missing,’ investigations begin to reveal all sorts of links – to a vicious off-shoot of the KKK, to the murders and ‘dissappearances’ of black people in the early 1960’s, to the deaths of JFK, MLK and RFK. Read the book, and you’ll know why I’ve written it like that. It is clear that the doctor, Penn Cage’s father holds the key to it all. Why he is hiding the truth, we don’t know. To protect himself, maybe. To protect his former nurse, maybe. To protect the KKK, the mafia or what he knows about them – maybe. Natchez Burning set out the stall, The Bone Tree puts everything in its place on the stall, the next one, possibly called Unwritten Laws will, well, who knows? Maybe that’ll sweep everything off the board – again. It’ll be an almost impossible feat to beat this, but if ayone can, on the evidence so far, it’s Greg Iles. Incredible work, just stunning and at the end, I wanted to ring someone up, anyone, if I knew them or not, and rant about how good this book was. Could not be more impressed if it had fallen off the bookshelf on my head.

For the sheer level of shock and awe on just about every page and at the level of penmanship it shows to maintain that over 800 pages, I can’t see The Bone Tree in my reading experience, ever being beaten. Quite where Greg Iles goes with the story after this monumental work, I don’t know. But, that’s the point. It’ll be a shock and it’ll be awesome. My recommendation? Wait until book three comes out and you can go through the whole lot in one go. You’re going to want to. Me, I gotta wait a year until book three. Aaaaargh!

My review of Natchez Burning

Buy Natchez Burning at The Book Depository

Buy The Bone Tree at The Book Depository

Me on Goodreads

Well, erm…blimey, yeah : The Bone Tree then…

Then this arrived today. Not what I was expecting.

Yes, I was expecting my hardback of The Bone Tree by Greg Iles to arrive, but I didn’t expect this.

The Bone TreeI was fairly sure I’d ordered the UK version from The Book Depository, as it looked (that’s it on the left), though in hardback, very similar to the design of the paperback version of Natchez Burning I read last year (on the left). Natchez BurningThat was a super-looking cover and I thought, at least if I am going to break the sequence and get a hardback instead of waiting for the paperback, at least it’ll look similar.

Just me? OK then.

 

So then, today, this turns up:

The Bone Tree 1

At first, I’m a little disappointed that it wasn’t what I obviously thought I was ordering. Then, I saw this:

The Bone Tree 6

The Bone Tree 8

The Bone Tree 7

Those are some rough-cut edges alright.

I can’t imagine that that is how they should be. The Book Depository did seem to give the impression that the book was being sent out ahead of schedule, so maybe I got one that was – somehow – unfinished? I did rack my old designer brain for a – given that I do know something of the story so far – justification for it. Came up empty.

So, I’m thinking ‘do I have the enthusiasm for sending it back?’, when I get thinking ‘that there cover looks a bit strange’ and I have a closer look…

The Bone Tree 3

The Bone Tree 4

The Bone Tree 5

And…I’m sold! My previous ‘oh good lord, this isn’t what I wanted!’ is now ‘Wow!’

So, rather than the dinner of the dog, in an instant I really do think it looks the knees of the bee, the pyjamas of the cat.

It’s certainly a first edition,

The Bone Tree 9

can’t complain there.

So, a nice – delayed – surprise then. The UK version still seems available to order on The Book Depository there, with another version also available, but without the cover pictured. I still believe I ordered the UK version, but I’m well chuffed with this one now and looking forward to getting some eyes into it asap.

Even with the ‘A Novel’ nonsense on the front…

 

 

Good news indeed!

 Now this one I have been looking forward to. It will be breaking into the schedule so I can indeed be ‘one of the first.’ Though as it’s on it’s way from wherever, to me here in Denmark, ‘the first’ is probably going to mean a lot larger number than they’re maybe thinking.

Natchez Burning was fantastic and only the start of a trilogy of which The Bone Tree is number two.

I think it may be the US version, I can’t remember, but I just hope they haven’t put ‘A Novel‘ on the cover. I know what the bloody thing is, I’m not gonna put it in the toaster and butter it, credit me with some intelligence.

Read my review of Natchez Burning here – if you didn’t see to click on the title above…

You can buy The Bone Tree from The Book Depository here.

If it’s 2015, it must be time for – Book of the Year 2014!

I thought I’d actually wait until the year was over (2014, just in case you…) before putting my heads together and seeing what I’d read that was worthy of

The Speesh Golden Bookmark*

for best book/read I read in 2014.

As usual, I don’t seem to have read any of other places’ ‘Books of the Year.’ Partly because I don’t often get on to actually reading books that were released in the year their list covers.

Anyway, I have readed** a fair few books this year. Listened to a fair few as well, after being temporarily (slightly) blind.

So, with grateful thanks to our sponsors –

RegionMidt (the people I work for and who pay, indirectly, for all the books and who really need to put a stop with the Danish Government’s attempts to starve the hospitals of money, calling it ‘savings’ when everyone at the sharp end (me) knows they’re ‘cuts.’ How can you put a price on health? Your health, my health. Can’t. Bastards).

Sydbank (our bank who turn a blind eye to a little overdraft now and then).

And a couple of authors who were kind enough to send me a copy of their books after reading this here blog and surmising, correctly as it turned out, that I might like to be sent their book(s): Here is a list of all the books I have finished in 2014. In order of finishing:

1. The Bourne Imperative : Eric Van Lustbader
2. The Ways of the World : Robert Goddard
3. Ratcatcher : Tim Stevens
4. Secret of the Seventh Son : Glenn Cooper
5. The Last Conquest : Berwick Coates
6. Stay Another Day : Mark Timlin
7. Swords of Good Men : Snorri Kristjansson
8. The Last Minute : Jeff Abbott
9. Arrows of Fury : Anthony Riches
10. Grail Knight : Angus Donald
11. Hannibal. The Patrol : Ben Kane
12. The Small Boat of Great Sorrows : Dan Fesperman
13. Stettin Station : David Downing
14. Elizabeth’s Sea Dogs : Hugh Bicheno
15. The Whitehall Mandarin : Edward Wilson
16. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Sp : Len Deighton
17. The Lion and The Lamb : John Henry Clay
18. The Rule of Four : Ian Caldwell
19. Out of Exile : Luke Preston
20. Conquest : Stewart Binns
21. Defender of Rome : Douglas Jackson
22. The Lost Symbol : Dan Brown
23. Of Merchants and Heroes : Paul Waters
24. Fortress of Spears : Anthony Riches
25. The Holy Thief : William Ryan
26. The Leopard Sword : Anthony Riches
27. Dead Men’s Dust : Matt Hilton
28. The Wolf’s Gold : Anthony Riches
29. The Dying Hours : Mark Billingham
30. A Farewell to Justice : Joan Mellen
31. The Bat : Jo Nesbø
32. Siege of Heaven : Tom Harper
33. Book of Souls : Glenn Cooper
34. Rome’s Executioner : Robert Fabbri
35. The Eagle’s Vengeance : Anthony Riches
36. A Colder War : Charles Cumming
37. The Emperor’s Knives : Anthony Riches
38. Natchez Burning : Greg Iles
39. The Wolves of the North : Harry Sidebottom
40. 1066 What Fates Impose : G.K. Holloway
41. The Fort : Bernard Cornwell
42. Judgement & Wrath : Matt Hilton
43. The Amber Road : Harry Sidebottom
44. Not In Your Lifetime : Anthony Summers
45. Mission To Paris : Alan Furst
46. The Bourne Retribution : Eric Van Lustbader

So, the best of the year?

Gonna have to be in two categories here. Historical Fiction and plain old Fiction. Maybe also Non-Fiction. Go on then, Non-Fiction as well.

“So what are they?!”

Best Historical Fiction book I read all year:

What Fates Impose1066 What Fates Impose by G.K. Holloway

No doubt about this one. And it’s not just because I finished it late in the year and can’t remember too far back…It’s because it’s a superb book, telling an interesting story in a wonderful way. I can’t remember being so impressed by a book for a good long while. I even forced it upon my neighbour (I/we live in Denmark, he’s also English, fortunately) and he loved it as well. You will believe the English are gonna win, I can assure you. Could do with the cover being a bit more dynamic, but otherwise, I cannot recommend this to you all highly enough.

The author had a look at the type of books I read/reviewed on the site and asked if I would like a copy sent. I haven’t been paid for the review other than getting the book for free.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Good ol’ G.K. also informs me that it’s on Amazon UK and Amazon US, should you really not want to get it from The Book Depository.

The Best Fiction book I read in 2014

…well, there were two. In order of equalness – or alphabetical, you decide –
I give you:

9780007467471A Colder War by Charles Cumming

Stunning book, absolutely. Glues itself to your hands, turns your brain inside out and has me counting the days to a sequel/follow up/his next one. Spy story par-excellence, bang up to date, harking back to the great spy novels of yore. Simple and effective and much better than a fair few others of his I’ve read. For once, the references to John le Carré are right. Go buy it.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Whitehall MandarinThe Whitehall Mandarin by Edward Wilson

OK, I read a lot of John le Carré when I was younger, so I like a good spy story and this is just that. Not in the shadow of le Carré at all, out on its own. A really interesting, intreguing journey through the’ 60’s, ’70’s, spy scandals, the diplomatic hot-spots and turning points. World-wide in scope, uniquely English in execution. I loved this one from start to finish. Get it bought. Do it now!

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

 

 

The Best Non-Fiction book I read all 2014, was:

A Farewell To JusticeA Farewell to Justice. Jim Garrison, JFK’s Assasination and the Case That Should Have Changed History by Joan Mellen

First, an absolutely incredible piece of work. Mind-boggling marshalling of facts into evidence. I really did think this was the last word on the whole affair. Joan Mellen owns the Kennedy conspiracy. Though… Anthony Summers has butted in with Not In Your Lifetime, Mellen still rules – for now.

Another pretty dreadful cover – and don’t let the Oliver Stone quote put you off, you need to read this book.

Here’s my review.

Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Mentioned in dispatches:

Natchez Burning by Greg Iles.

Fabulous. Stunning. All that.

I posted a review. The Natchez tourist people follow me on Twitter. Excellent stuff.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

Alan Furst - Mission to ParisMission to Paris by Alan Furst

His best…so far.

1939, Paris, Berlin, Paris. Subtle, suspense, something else good beginning with ‘s.’

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

The Small Boat of Great SorrowsThe Small Boat of Great Sorrows by Dan Fesperman

The Balkans, the Second World War, the Balkan conflict, Italy. One that gets better the more I think about it. And bought for a song in the Porthcawl RNLI shop. Result.

Here’s my review.
Here’s where you can buy it wherever you live.

I hope you enjoyed the books you read in 2014 and that you’re looking forward to the ones you’ll read in ’15.

Remember to read real books (that’ll be ones made from paper) and make sure you only ever use Amazon for books if you really can’t avoid it, or until they start paying the right amount of tax. Like you and I do.

*There isn’t a golden bookmark. I made that up.

**Yes, I know…

Review: Natchez Burning: A Novel

Natchez Burning: A Novel
Natchez Burning: A Novel by Greg Iles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! What a great book that was! 800-odd pages and I’m still annoyed to have come to the end. Not often you can say that. But wait! Luckily for me (and you), it’s only the start – of a trilogy.

Stephen King says on the cover of the version I have; “Amazing. I defy you to put it down.” First, note an American that used ‘amazing’ instead of ‘awesome.’ Then, yes, he is absolutely spot on. It wasn’t Steven King’s recommendation that got me to buy it, admittedly, that was a blog post from the New York Times or some such a while back. Greg Iles’ background to the story, the premise and the seeming intermingling of fact and fiction, all sounded not just intriguing, but absolutely ‘me.’ And I was right. So, Stephen King and I have something in common at least. Then, the fact that it was in a 2 for £7.00 offer at a UK supermarket and it being the size of a house-brick, pushed me over the edge. And…I did indeed find it very, very hard to put down.

It’s not a simple story, despite the ‘A father accused of murder. A son who must face the truth,’ on the front. That dilemma, is just one of the many themes running through the book and whilst it maybe pertinent for the character of Penn Cage (the son), it isn’t what drives or influences the story in the largest way. In fact, there isn’t an easy way to sum it up. So I’m not going to try. There isn’t the space – despite the size of some of my recent reviews – to do the complexity, the nuance, the history, the scope of the book anything like full justice. A bare bones then.

It is fiction, though it is set in and around the real American town of Natchez. Which is where author Greg Iles lives and many of the places, institutions and some of the historical cases, are, he says, real enough. It is a very skilfully woven tale, in and out of reality and I did find it took a while to let go of the feeling that he is writing about real incidents, relating a true, his own possibly, story. That’s good. So the story and its themes are supposed, in a fictional setting, to light up and explain, as far as they can be ‘explained’ in the Ku Klux Klan’s case, the whys and wherefores, the feelings and motives that a purely non-fiction telling probably could not. If I say ‘deep south of USA, 1960’s, into early ’70’s then up to ’now,’ you’ll maybe begin to place the events of the period that the book is dealing with. Penn Cage is a lawyer, an author and Mayor of Natchez. But it is about his father, Tom Cage, that he gets a worrying phone call right at the start of the book. His father is very likely about to be accused of deliberately killing an elderly black lady. A murder. Penn Cage, being a lawyer, a good one and sure of his father’s innocence, should make it just a misunderstanding and make it go away. However, problems there soon are. He finds that his father won’t tell him anything about the incident he stands accused of. Won’t tell him if he did it. Of if he didn’t do it. Even if he might or might not have done it. Nothing. Penn Cage discovers that the dead lady, was his father’s nurse back in the 60’s. Also, that she knew and/or was related to, several people who died at the hands of a particularly nasty local off-shoot of the Ku Klux Klan. And these men, while elderly nowadays, have family who aren’t, but are highly – and securely – placed in the local community. Including law enforcement. Problem is, as characters find out to their cost, the law they are enforcing, is very often their very own. As it was back in the early ’60’s as well. As you soon found out, if you lived in the US south and were black. Penn and his father aren’t the only characters who feature. There is a full and complex supporting cast of interesting people, who are caught up to varying degrees, in the maelstrom of emotions, events and incidents, which soon turn out to be equally as destructive, as hurricane Katrina which blew through the area a few months before the story’s ‘present’ starts. Got that?

There’s so much interest and incident, it really is hard to keep it short. But all of it, slowly, painstakingly revealed, fits well, is logical and entirely plausible – given the logic and plausibility of some of the characters – and always believable. The story wheels through many people’s lives, linking them to the story and building up a thoroughly compelling account of how the past is reaching out and taking hold of all their presents. For me, it is a book full of passion, anger, hope, regret, sadness, peace and longing. Personally, I read a real sense of longing for the past, sometimes to re-live those times, or maybe to alter them, or maybe even to just to understand them, put them finally in their place. The future seems on hold until the past is dealt with. That kind of thing.

The story is written in the first person when featuring Penn Cage (a name that still sounds like a thing, rather than a person to me, but there you go), third person for when other characters are involved. It is really well structured and well written, but subtle with it. It’s like it’s describing real events in real time, then and now (if that’s even possible) and we find our way forwards, together with the characters as they try to find out what is going on and how it all fits together. By not telling us (the reader) more than the characters know, Iles keeps us on the edge, of our seats and nerves (well, in my case anyway). An especially admirable feat when done over 800-odd pages. The story moves backwards and forwards in time seamlessly, as each character contemplates their part in how the story came to be and as it unfolds in the present. It seems to be done depending on whether what is happening now needs explaining with what happened in the past and I’ll admit I was a little thrown off balance a couple of times. Makes you pay attention though. It’s like the characters are daydreaming sometimes, transported by something they see or hear, back to a time when a relevant incident happened. However, it all hangs together and works extremely well. The Hurricane Katrina disaster that hit the area for real in 2005, is – I think – used as a way of explaining the storm of feelings that were caused by the racial tensions and conflict of the 1960’s, with the book charting the kind of clear-up operation from that emotional hurricane, still going on today. The characters find that what they did back then, they can’t escape from now. Their past, their past actions, is still the present, though they have tried to run and hide. Like the hurricane, as the books says; “The problem is, the past has crashed into the present.” The past has also left a trail of devastation into the present and the unravelling is what the book is all about.

There is no way I could give this anything other than the big five stars. I’m very much looking forward to the second volume. If you haven’t already – go investigate ’Natchez Burning’ for yourself.

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Reading ‘Natchez Burning’ by Greg Iles

Natchez-Burning-Greg-IlesThis is what I’m on with now. It’s what we in the trade call ‘a big bugger,’ so I might be a while.

Reading Natchez Burning by Greg Iles

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