Desert Isle Keeper
Mississippi Blood is Greg Iles’ sixth book featuring former prosecutor Penn Cage, but because it’s also the conclusion to the story begun in Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree, readers will not want to pick it up without suitable knowledge of prior events. I recommend starting with Natchez Burning, or, if you want to go back to the very beginning of Penn’s story, try The Quiet Game.
Penn’s father, Dr. Tom Cage, is about to go on trial for the murder of his former nurse Viola Turner, an African-American woman who came home to Natchez to die under the care of the doctor who was once her lover. Some believe Tom and Viola had a suicide pact, wherein Tom would kill Viola at a time of her choosing, rather than allowing her to die slowly of the cancer that was ravaging her body. But Penn isn’t convinced his father played any part in Viola’s death. His investigations, along with those of his now deceased fiancée, Caitlin Masters, have turned up startling revelations connecting Tom and Viola to a terroristic sect of the KKK known as the Double Eagles.
The story opens several days before the commencement of Tom’s trial. Penn’s search for evidence to exonerate his father has so far proven fruitless, and is further complicated by Tom’s refusal to help Penn clear his name. It seems he’s willing to take the fall for Viola’s death, and Penn is desperate to know why.
Penn’s life is in tatters. The Double Eagles murdered his fiancé, his young daughter seems on the verge of an emotional breakdown, and he worries about his mother’s physical and mental health as she struggles to stand by her husband, despite the secrets of his past. Plus, he’s still the mayor of Natchez, and he’s finding it hard to keep things together. His need to find out what really happened to Viola Turner seems to be consuming him, and he’s powerless to stop the events set in motion on the night of her death.
The Cage family has some very powerful enemies. The surviving Double Eagles, most of whom are now in their seventies, are determined to keep their secrets buried. They have connections to some of the most devastating assassinations of the 1960s and are willing to do anything to keep that information under wraps. Dr. Cage is the perfect fall guy for them, and they know just how to get him to comply with their wishes. These are ruthless men who have many of the most influential men in Mississippi in their pockets, so things are looking pretty bleak for Tom Cage and his family.
Lincoln Turner, Viola’s son and the product of her long ago affair with Tom, wants someone to pay for his mother’s death. He’s convinced Tom had something to do with it, so he’s helping the district attorney build the case against the father he never knew. He’s very resentful of the Cages, for reasons that the reader will come to understand as the story unfolds, and although I wasn’t overly fond of his character, I could understand where he was coming from.
This is a highly complex and action-packed novel where no one is trustworthy and nothing is as it seems. There are some pretty graphic descriptions of sexual assault and torture which won’t appeal to the faint of heart, although if you can get past those, I’m sure you’ll be sucked into the story just as I was.
There’s a hint of romance between Penn and Serenity Butler, a former soldier turned writer who has come to Natchez to write about the Viola Turner case. It doesn’t get much page time, but the two of them definitely have a strong connection and they do share several pretty steamy moments. However, if you’re looking for the romance to be the main focus of the novel, this book won’t deliver. It’s a nice diversion from the violence and mayhem, but it’s obvious Penn and Serenity aren’t together for the long haul.
There’s a lot of history contained in these pages. I’m not sure how much of it is valid, since I’m not a huge 60s buff, but Mr. Iles makes every bit of it seem believable, and I had absolutely no trouble immersing myself in the story.
Mysteries are a dime a dozen these days, but I have to say that no one crafts them like Greg Iles does. The appeal of his book has a great deal to do with the complicated, twisty nature of the plot, but a lot of it is also due to the sheer beauty of his writing. He doesn’t just tell us a story. Instead, he makes us really feel everything about the characters and their situation. In short, his work is always a joy to read, and his latest offering is no exception.