Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mississippi Burning (Again) Greg Iles' Latest Novel Is a Sweeping Epic of Murder Rooted in the Jim Crow Era

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Mississippi Burning (Again) Greg Iles' Latest Novel Is a Sweeping Epic of Murder Rooted in the Jim Crow Era

Article excerpt

"Natchez Burning"

By Greg Iles

William Morrow ($27.99)

In "Natchez Burning," Greg Iles accomplishes an amazing feat: a 790-page novel whose story never flags. It is the best-selling writer's 14th novel and his first since 2009. In 2011, Mr. Iles was in a car crash that resulted in the loss of his right leg. Now recovered, he is back with this generous saga that will appeal to anyone whose attention span is long enough for a layered, emotional mystery.

In "Natchez Burning," Mr. Iles inserts vivid fictional characters into real civil rights-era history. The first 40 pages take place between 1964 and 1968. The remainder is set in 2005, where the death of a woman focuses attention on events that occurred some 40 years before.

In 1964, in Ferriday, La., Norris' Music Emporium is a place "where black and white could interact with trust and respect rather than fear and hatred." This comes to a ferocious end after the parish's richest man, Brody Royal, discovers that his daughter is seeing a black musician.

Royal is pleased with the Klansmen he hired to take care of his problem and offers to bankroll them for a more important job: the assassination of Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

The sinister leader of the group, Frank Knox, says: "The Klan we got now's about as dangerous as the Garden Club." So he starts a new operation called the Double Eagles. Knox believes they can lure their target to Mississippi. For bait, they kidnap a young musician named Jimmy Revels, and his friend Luther Davis, who are campaigning among the black community for Bobby Kennedy, now running for president.

Revels and Davis escape but are injured and seek care from doctor Tom Cage and his nurse, Viola Davis, who is Revels' sister. Doctor and nurse are more than co-workers, but live under the tyranny of an unwritten code: "The real barrier to any relationship: Tom was white and Viola was black. The gulf could not be bridged in Natchez, Mississippi, in the 1960s, not without casualties."

The story is picked up in 2005 by Dr. Cage's son, Penn. This is Iles' fourth novel to feature Penn Cage, who is now mayor of Natchez. …

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