Monday, October 17, 2016

Review: Natchez Burning

Summary: From #1 New York Times bestselling author Greg Iles comes the first novel in his Natchez Burning trilogy—which also includes The Bone Tree and the upcoming Mississippi Blood—an epic trilogy that interweaves crimes, lies, and secrets past and present in a mesmerizing thriller featuring Southern lawyer and former prosecutor Penn Cage.

Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn's quest for the truth sends him deep into his father's past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez's oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles' crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth? -- William Morrow

I am so excited to share my thoughts with you about a fantastic novel NATCHEZ BURNING by Greg Iles! Believe me when I tell you that I don't usually recommend 800+ page novels. In fact, I rarely read books that long because I'm intimidated by them. However, I had heard so many wonderful things about this author that I decided to give it a try. Let me just say... I couldn't put it down! And 800 pages seemed like nothing!

NATCHEZ BURNING is the first book in Mr. Iles' Natchez Burning trilogy. The second book is titled THE BONE TREE (which I will be reading in the very near future) and the final installment is MISSISSIPPI BLOOD which will be released early next year. Needless to say, I'm hooked on this series and can't say enough good things about NATCHEZ BURNING. In fact, I was excited to learn that this novel is actually the fourth one starring Penn Cage, so there's plenty more books for me to read. Woo Hoo!

NATCHEZ BURNING is a big book and I don't just mean because it's so long. It's big because it covers so much -- from family drama, to crimes, to lies, to secrets, to murder, to secret organizations, and more! It's a complex novel that goes back and forth between the present and the past, and it's extremely well-written. I don't know if you can tell but I thought this book was outstanding! Ha Ha!

The novel stars Penn Cage, a lawyer and now mayor of his home town Natchez, Mississippi. When he discovers that his father, the small town doctor who is as close to a hero as any mere mortal can be, is accused of murdering his African American nurse who he worked with way back in the 1960s. Penn is determined to prove his father's innocence, but his father is being less than helpful and doesn't want to talk about her death... or his past.

So Penn sets out to find out the truth on his own and digs into his father's past. He discovers that his father has his own set of secrets including a possible relationship with his nurse. As difficult as it is to face the truth about his father, he's even more disturbed to learn that his hometown has some very dark secrets too, including the Dark Eagles, a secret organization that is an offshoot of the KKK... and even more brutal than the KKK ever was.

Penn works together with the award-winning journalist (who also happens to be his fiancee) Caitlin as well as another very courageous journalist who has been investigating the history of the Dark Eagles for some time. While they are all determined to reveal the members of the Dark Eagles for what they've done, they quickly realize that these are very dangerous men who are more than willing to do what's necessary to anyone and everyone who gets in their way.

NATCHEZ BURNING is just an incredible novel. I loved the characters (or at least the good guys!) and I loved the complexity of the story. I honestly can't remember reading a novel that encompasses this much in a very long time. What truly stood out to me is just how amazing Mr. Iles is as a writer and storyteller. I loved how he told this story on a macro level, but I also was impressed with his prose and his dialogue.

I am just touching the surface of this novel and hope I'm not doing it a disservice. There is no way I can go into the complexities of the mystery or the characters. However, I will say that I was blown away by how well the author navigated going back and forth between the present and the past. Often times in a novel that switches back and forth, I prefer one time period and its stories to the other. That wasn't the case in this book. I loved Penn as he delved into learning the truth about his father, but I also loved the flashbacks to 1960s Natchez. Mr. Iles brought this time period to life in an incredibly honest way... even though it was brutal and disturbing at times.

I also was extremely impressed with the mystery aspect of this novel. It is a good one with some big time twists. However, what made the novel so special to me wasn't the actual mystery. Rather, it was just how smart this book was on so many levels. While the mystery was the central theme of the story, it was about so much more than just figuring out what happened to Dr. Cage's nurse. The book explored a complex man in Dr. Cage as well as Penn's relationship with him. It also does a fantastic job of showing the ethical dilemmas that Penn faced while learning the truth about his dad. In addition, the book explores such complex issues such as assisted death, racism, small town life, violence, and much much more.

I feel as if my review could go on for pages because there truly is so much to discuss about this novel. As a result, I would love to talk about this book (and probably the other two as well) with my book club. It truly is an ideal book club selection, although I do think many groups will be reluctant to select an 800+ page novel. In addition to talking about the great mystery, there is so much to say about the various characters. I also think it would be interesting to make some comparisons to what is going on in our country today. Some of the other themes you might want to explore include ethical dilemmas, race relations, secrets, family dynamics, truth, corruption, and more!

I loved NATCHEZ BURNING and will be reporting back to you soon with my review of THE BONE TREE. In the meantime, I can't recommend this book enough... so what are you waiting for? You have plenty of time to read the first two books in this trilogy before the final installment will be released in March!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

I feel sure I'd love this book too but, like you, I've always been intimidated by its size. Maybe it'll be a good book to pick up this winter.

LynCarter said...

There are actually six Penn Cage books, including one novella. Be sure to go back and start with the Quiet Game. It starts the whole storyline! You will love it!!