Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What we're reading: The end to an epic journey

Back in July of 2016, I wrote an extended blog post, which you can read here, about suspense/thriller writer Greg Iles's fascination with a complex story about the fraught history of the American South in Natchez, Mississippi, past and present. At the time that blog post was written, the final book in the Natchez Burning trilogy was supposed to be called Unwritten Laws, and was to be published in April of this year. Well, the book is out, but it's now called Mississippi Blood, and I just finished reading it.

This is the book in which most of the secrets are revealed. Lawyer, author, and Natchez mayor Penn Cage is reeling from personal tragedy and a community in turmoil after the events of The Bone Tree. Penn's father, Dr. Tom Cage, is about to go on trial for the murder of his former nurse and secret lover, Viola Turner. The suit was initially brought against Tom Cage by Lincoln Turner, the son of Viola, who has just discovered that (contrary to what his mother always told him) he was in fact fathered by Tom Cage during a brief affair the two had back in the 1960s. Turner is an angry man who is determined to get justice for his mother, and has pinned all his hatred squarely on his white father, with some left over for Penn, the son who was raised in privilege while Lincoln was exiled to a life of poverty in Chicago.

Dr. Cage has remained mum about most things to do with the death of Viola Turner, mostly in an attempt to protect his wife, son, and granddaughter from scandal and retaliation, but the truth is about to be told. Not, however, by or with the consent of Penn, who continues to be frustrated by his father's stonewalling. Penn, a former prosecutor with a lot of trial experience, is determined to represent Tom in court, hoping to come away with a not-guilty verdict. Tom's health is so poor at this point that any prison sentence, however brief, will also be a death sentence. But Tom has completely excluded his son from the defense team and his trial strategy; instead, he hires the elderly but still dynamic civil rights attorney, Quentin Avery.

The added complication to all of this is that the Double Eagles, a vicious spin-off group of the Ku Klux Klan, and specifically their sociopathic leader, Snake Knox, will do anything to guard their hateful secrets, and the trial of Dr. Cage is about to blow those wide open. Between attempting to protect his family and trying to exonerate his father, Penn is in for a stressful couple of weeks (and so is the reader!).

Mississippi Blood was a satisfying and well-crafted end to the trilogy (which was actually part of a bigger story spanning six books). Iles left a few small things dangling at the end, in case he wants to revisit these characters and setting, but mostly wrapped it up. If you are a fan of courtroom drama, you will really enjoy this book, because unlike the others, which had a little more adventure "out in the world," this book took place inside the courtroom for about 85 percent of the book. But there is excitement to be had both indoors and out, and the unbearable suspense engendered by the trial keeps you reading to the end. And contained within it is history, a couple of love stories, a few murder mysteries (besides the main one), and a complex interwoven cast of distinct characters that run the gamut from heroic to despicable. It's exciting fare; but you definitely need to read at least the trilogy to understand anything of what's going on.

Find this book on the "New Books" shelves at all three branches.

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