Greg Iles Wraps Up Blood-Soaked Trilogy

By Levins, Harry | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Greg Iles Wraps Up Blood-Soaked Trilogy


Levins, Harry, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


With "Mississippi Blood," novelist Greg Iles wraps up a trilogy that started in 2014 with "Natchez Burning" and continued the next year with "Bone Tree." But despite heavy doses of gore, the title "Mississippi Blood" refers to a different kind of blood.

One of his characters, a young black woman, uses the term while quoting her uncle:

"I been all over the South, man. Cutting pulpwood and playing the blues. Mississippi blood is different. It's got some river in it. Delta soil, turpentine, asbestos, cotton poison. But there's strength in it, too. Strength that's been beat but not broke. That's Mississippi blood."

And then there are Mississippi bloodlines specifically, the bloodline of Dr. Tom Cage, a well-respected physician in Natchez, along the Mississippi River in the state's southwestern corner. Decades ago, he impregnated his nurse, a black woman. She fled to Chicago, where she bore a son. As the book opens, she's an aged woman, back in Natchez, dying of cancer.

But she dies violently, of a toxic injection. Authorities charge Dr. Cage with murdering her to keep her from disclosing the name of the man who impregnated her.

Enter the other character named Cage Penn Cage, former prosecutor turned crime novelist and son of the doctor. As the intricate and complicated plot unreels, Penn forms an unlikely team with his half-brother. Their mission: to pin down who murdered his half-brother's mother.

Readers who missed the first two books of this trilogy might want to read them before heading into this weighty, 692-page tale. (Even readers who finished the first two books might have problems remembering enough of them to stroll easily through this wrap-up. And author Iles' decision in this book to shift back and forth between third-person narration by himself and first-person narration by Penn Cage may addle some readers.)

Still, Iles' account of Dr. Cage's trial is captivating. At the trial, the prosecuting attorney tells jurors that "we live in a time when public perception of the justice system has been greatly influenced, even distorted, by television shows like CSI. Juries sometimes feel that if the State's case is anything less than a parade of high-tech tests and recordings, then they cannot judge someone to be guilty of a crime."

And Iles has a deep understanding of places like Natchez, where he grew up and still lives. He writes that Dr. Cage "strayed from his own kind, mingled his blood with the ancient blood of Africa. That was common on this dark bend of the river, as it was across the South before Thomas Jefferson ever became a founding father. But my father's offense was that he cared for the woman he bedded, and for her people, and in this atavistic corner of the New World he learned that the fearful, clannish Anglo-Saxons who'd settled it always exacted a price for such betrayal.

"And blood and death followed."

---

"Mississippi Blood"

A novel by Greg Iles

Published by William Morrow, 688 pages, $28.99

GREG ILES

When * 7 p.m. Monday

Where * St. Louis County Library, 1640 South Lindbergh Boulevard

How much * Free

More info* 314-994-3300

***

In "The Forgotten Girls," Canadian writer Owen Laukkanen focuses on an unheralded group of serial-killing victims vagrant teenage girls known as "train hoppers."

On a railway line in the northwestern United States, train hoppers mysteriously disappear. One former train hopper puts it this way to an FBI agent:

"She'd told him about the High Line, how train hoppers steered clear. …

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