Natchez, Mississippi, 1964: As the civil rights movement gains momentum, a group of individuals known only as The Double Eagles embark on a mission of terror, leaving behind a bloody trail of death and destruction which will haunt Natchez for years to come.
Natchez, 2005: Former prosecutor-turned-mayor Penn Cage is working hard to rebuild his beloved town and is eagerly planning his new life with fiancée Caitlin and daughter Annie. But the blissful peace of his world is shattered when he learns that his father stands accused of murder. The victim is Viola Turner, a woman who worked as a nurse in his father’s practice during the height of the civil rights movement.
Penn knows his father; the highly respected Dr Cage could never have committed such a heinous crime, so why won’t he let Penn defend him?
Penn’s quest for answers leads him to investigative journalist Henry Sexton, who has spent the last 30 years tirelessly investigating the Double Eagles and gathering evidence which he hopes will link its members to some of Natchez’s worst unsolved crimes. Henry’s research reveals a startling connection between Dr Cage and the Double Eagles, and as Penn delves deeper into his father’s past. he uncovers a disturbing secret which could place his family in danger.
Natchez Burning is the latest in a series of novels featuring Penn Cage, but it stands well on its own and readers who are unfamiliar with Penn will easily be able to follow the story.
A Natchez local, Iles uses his intimate knowledge of America’s south to transport readers back to a tumultuous time in American history, creating a story which illustrates the depth of the conflict from the point of view of both parties. His antagonists are vile individuals whose actions are recounted to the reader by an omniscient narrator – a technique which allows the reader to glimpse their sickly, uninformed minds.
Although Penn’s investigation centres firmly around his father’s presumed innocence, he is quickly sucked in to the deeper mysteries surrounding the Double Eagles, and Iles expertly weaves together conspiracy theories, FBI investigations and Sexton’s findings to create a complex labyrinth.
At well over 780 pages, Natchez Burning is not exactly light reading, but there are enough plot twists and despicable villains to keep mystery buffs and historians occupied. Despite the book’s explosive final chapters, however, there is a frustrating lack of closure.
Greg Iles’ Natchez Burning is published by HarperCollins, $19.99.