Wednesday, June 24, 2015


HARPERCOLLINS – @HarperCollins

AUTHOR: Greg Iles
ISBN: 978-0-06-231109-2; mass market paperback (March 31, 2015)
880pp, B&W, $9.99 U.S., $12.50 CAN

Natchez Burning is a 2014 novel written by author Greg Iles.  It is the first book in Iles' Natchez Burning Trilogy and the fourth book in his “Penn Cage Series.”  Harper recently reprinted Natchez Burning in a mass market paperback edition, after originally publishing the novel in the spring of 2014.

Natchez Burning covers a wide variety of genres and sub-genres, including mystery, thriller, suspense, crime, and family and local history.  The novel centers on Mayor Penn Cage, as he tries to discover the truth about his father who is accused of murdering a former employee.

Natchez Burning opens with former prosecutor, bestselling author, and current mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage, describing his father.  Growing up in the rural Southern hamlet of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn learned everything he knows about honor and duty from his father, Tom Cage, a family doctor beloved by the poor for how he helped and continues to help them.  It is 2005, just months after Hurricane Katrina stuck, and Dr. Cage is accused of murdering Viola Turner, the beautiful nurse with whom he worked in the 1960s.

Penn has been a fighter who has always stood for justice, so he is going to fight for his father, of course.  However, Penn's quest for answers sends him deep into the past—into the turbulent 1960s of Natchez, Mississippi and of Concordia Parish, Louisiana.  Here, Penn discovers a conspiracy of murder, greed, and racial hate that involves a vicious KKK offshoot, the Double Eagles, financed and directed by one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Louisiana.  Determined to save his father, Penn's goes on a journey that spans forty years and discovers that the truth will endanger everyone – black and white and young and old.

I think that Natchez Burning is probably the best 862-page novel that I have ever read.  If, somewhere along the way, I discover a better one, then, it will almost certainly be a work of art and it will certainly leave me astounded.  It won't be easy to top Natchez Burning, although the second book of the trilogy, The Bone Tree, is already out in hardcover.

There is a blurb on the paperback cover of Natchez Burning.  It contains two lines of praise from bestselling author Stephen King that says:  “Extraordinarily entertaining and fiendishly suspenseful. I defy you to start it and find a way to put it down.”  If you are a fan of King, would you suspect him of lying?  How can you defy him?  Read this book.

Seriously, several times, personal and professional obligations demanded that I stop reading Natchez Burning.  When I could read it, however, I did not want to stop.  Every page is practically a cliffhanger, and many pages offer a cliffhanger, of sorts.  Holding this book is like holding a small package of literary dynamite, and I didn't mind how many times it exploded in my hands and in my face.

Natchez Burning is our dark, racist, Jim Crow, segregation, church-bombing, black man-assassinating past turned into the proverbial must-read, potboiler novel.  This is the Southern-fried humdinger that John Grisham wishes he could write.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux; support me on Patreon.

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