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Darden North reviews "Natchez Burning" by Greg Iles

An agonizing story that you wish were only fiction .....


I shelved my personalized-signed copy of the lengthy novel and instead enjoyed the digital audio version of this latest Penn Cage installment. Admittedly, I was at a slight disadvantage since I have not yet read "The Devil's Punchbowl," Iles' preceding novel.  However, I quickly absorbed the sickening back-story of racism and political assassinations that filled so much of the news while I was in elementary school and growing up in Louisiana and Mississippi. Much of the first 40 chapters of "Natchez Burning" builds for the reader the sickening story of the KKK and Brody Royal's Double Eagles, a group bent on a degree of terror and torture that rivals any modern-day terrorist organization. It is after these chapters heavily laced in back-story that the novel finally accelerates, earning for Iles the reviewer clichĂ©: "Couldn't put it down." Natchez (Mississippi) mayor and novelist Penn Cage and his publisher fiancĂ©e Caitlin Masters strive to learn the truth about the contemporary murder of an African-American nurse, beloved by the community and formerly employed by Penn's well-respected physician father. Penn Cage soon begins to question his father's past actions and motives during the racist 1960s and challenges his own intentions for wanting to learn the truth. He even wonders if Caitlin’s goals are simply to earn another Pulitzer in journalism by solving hate crimes of the era. Although portrayed by Iles as a couple truly in love, Penn and Caitlin initially withhold information from each other to further their own objectives. The novel jumps back and forth between first and third persons, which can be confusing to the reader at times, particularly if listening to the sometimes slow audio version, but fellow Mississippian Greg Iles has earned the literary pedigree to get away with it. The narrator does a good job reproducing nearly authentic southern dialects and adds some variety between the male characters while his female voices are not strained or silly. The ending to "Natchez Burning" plays well to the reader's thirst for the second installment of this planned trilogy, and Greg Iles’ crafty use of descriptive prose in character development and setting is a marvel.


----- Darden North
        www.dardennorth.com

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