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by Greg Iles
William Morrow, April 2014
800 pages
ISBN: 0062311077

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Penn Cage, former Houston prosecuting attorney and now mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, receives a telephone call from the district attorney informing him that someone has accused his father of murdering Viola Turner. Dr. Tom Cage, "had led an exemplary life. He was a war hero and a beloved physician, without the slightest blemish on his character," and Viola Turner, an African-American woman, had been his nurse before leaving for Chicago nearly forty years earlier. Now, Viola's son is accusing Dr. Cage of having murdered this woman, who had returned to Natchez with late-stage cancer and was under the care of Dr. Cage. Penn suspects this is a case of assisted suicide and on that basis is only mildly worried. However, evidence is gradually revealed that hints of darker motivations growing out of the violent period when an extremist white power group calling themselves the Double Eagles used terror and intimidation to try to stem the rising tide of the civil rights movement. Aided by his fiancée Caitlin Masters, a Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper publisher, and informed by Henry Sexton, a dogged journalist who has made uncovering the crimes of the Double Eagles his life's work, Penn Cage tries to understand this father whom he thought he knew so well and unravel the mystery that has not only put his father at risk of being convicted of murder, but created a violent backlash that threatens Penn's daughter and his fiancée.

NATCHEZ BURNING, the first book in a trilogy that has been described as "epic," is set in both the present day and the turbulent sixties leading up to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Although the novel is 800 pages long, the fast pace, startling twists and turns, and issues raised by Iles keep the reader satisfyingly engaged. Iles presents the reader with troubling questions: When does our silence in the face of injustice implicate us? How well do we really know the people we love? For that matter, how well do we know ourselves and the extent of our ability to be courageous in violent times?

The Civil War in America ostensibly ended at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, but in the minds of Sonny Thornfield and other members of The Double Eagles, "Appomattox hadn't ended anything; it had merely heralded an intermission. The war itself was still raging across the country, right under the shiny plastic surface of the American Dream." A timely book. Read it. I promise you will be angry, uncomfortable, saddened, appalled. You will be reminded of the fragility of that line that separates the good guys from the bad. What you won't be is bored.

§ P.D. Crumbaker lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where she works as an editor for a legal publication.

Reviewed by P.D. Crumbaker, July 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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