I have mentioned before that I don’t normally do book reviews of books that are part of a series, unless it’s the first in the series. I certainly RARELY would do a review of a book that is fourth in a series. Yet, I feel I must express my opinions about Greg Isles’ Natchez Burning, because I can’t get the book out of my mind. That rarely happens to me, no matter how much I like a book.
Isles introduced his protagonist Penn Cage to us in The Quiet Game, a book published in 1999, and reviewed by me earlier this year. He had written other books, including Spandau Phoenix, a novel about Nazi criminal Rudolf Hess, a book that has somewhat of a cult following. I found Isles’ writing to be excellent and compelling. I subsequently read the other two books leading up to Natchez Burning. I found those books to be equally well-written, but disturbingly and brutally violent. Still, Natchez Burning was one of the most talked-about books of 2014, so I knew I wanted to read it.
One of the reasons it was so popular is that the author nearly lost his life in a car accident following the publication of the book preceding Natchez Burning. He lost part of one leg, and spent three years recovering. He also spent those three years writing a trilogy that is a follow-up to his previous Penn Cage novels. This back story led to an interest in this book by both his existing fans and new readers of his fiction.
In Natchez Burning, Cage learns that his beloved father, who is a well-respected family doctor, is being accused of murdering his old nurse. Cage quickly learns that there is more to his father than he ever knew. In his efforts to prove his father innocent, Cage is taken back 40 years to a time that might be better forgotten in the south, when the Ku Klux Klan was powerful and racial tension is beyond anything the reader can imagine. Greed and conspiracy abound.
If I have a complaint about the book, it’s that the bad guys are so incredibly evil that they are almost like cartoon characters. Caricatures, really. At least I hope so. And the story really is horribly violent. Every so often, I would let out a moan. Bill would ask me what was wrong, but it was simply my reaction to something unbelievably violent that transpired in the book.
Still, I can’t say enough about Isle’s writing. It’s what makes me keep reading the story, and then picking up the next. Because the book after this has already been published – The Bone Tree. I can’t wait to see what happens next, because Isles leaves us hanging at the end of Natchez Burning.
I cautiously recommend this book to fans of mysteries/thrillers. But it isn’t easy reading, just as his other novels aren’t easy reading. Hard to make a light-hearted read out of dog fighting and pedophilia. It’s incredible writing, however, which makes for a book that’s hard to put down.