Tag Archives: Greg Iles

The Footprints of God: A mix of technology and moral wrestling

Every now and then I get a Greg Iles book that doesn’t fit his standard genre. The Footprints of God is one of those books.

Dr. David Tennant has been overseeing Project Trinity as a ethics and morals specialist, by special request of the president. Things were progressing well on the supercomputer until Tennant and his friend and fellow colleague raised some questions and put the project on hold. When the colleague dies at work, Tennant quickly realizes that stalling the project has put his life in danger. On the run, Tennant can’t trust anyone except his psychiatrist, who ends up roped into the danger by crossing the professional line and checking up on Tennant at his home. Project Trinity is more than anyone on the outside can imagine, but in trying to solve the problem of humanity, the scientists may have created something worse.

Though still a classic Iles thriller, The Footprints of God is a different kind of story. It reads closer to Dan Brown, with maybe a sprinkling of Ted Dekker’s allegorical style. Tennant suffers from vivid dreams that his psychiatrist diagnosis as hallucinations, and these dreams end up leading Tennant to the answers he needs to save the world. The story seems also to wrestle a little bit with religion, specifically Christianity. Though the Tennant is not a religious character, his dreams take a religious turn and he ends up getting a look in the mind of “God,” who Iles writes as a sort of accidental creator.

The book was engaging, fast-paced and twisty, dropping just enough hints to keep me guessing without revealing too soon what was going on. I had a few issues beyond the questionable religious wrestling, primarily the obvious relationship development between Tennant and his psychiatrist. But for Dan Brown fans, this book will be a good read.

Blood Memory: A traumatic psychological thriller

Given that it’s pretty much the subject of the entire book, Blood Memory needs its content and trigger warnings right up front. This book deals a lot with childhood sexual abuse and the lingering effects. While it’s an exploratory story of one character regaining her repressed memories and reclaiming her life, it’s also a very intense read and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone with that kind of trauma in their past.

Cat Ferry’s life has been a collection of manic highs and depressive lows. She’s functional only when she’s drinking or working, and while she knows the clues to her issues lie in her past, she can’t recall anything from before she discovered her father dead in the garden.

When Cat starts having panic attacks at crime scenes where she consults with the New Orleans Police Department, she decides to take a trip back to Natchez, Mississippi, to visit home. Once there, an accident reveals that there’s more to her father’s death than she knew, and it seems like everyone has been lying to Cat her entire life. Only by understanding her past can Cat piece together the clues and solve the serial murders in New Orleans.

Though Greg Iles writes an engaging and fast-paced story, it was challenging to read, given the premise of abuse. I have a lot of mixed feelings about Blood Memory. From a psychological and thriller standpoint, it was an excellent book. Iles leads his readers on, letting them question everything from the truth to Cat’s sanity. The only thing that seemed lacking was more hints toward the perpetrator of the murders.

But I can’t say that a really good story is grounds enough for me to be OK with reading that premise (though I suppose that’s part of the point, no one should be “OK” with it). Iles wasn’t gratuitous with his descriptions of abuse, and I did feel a bit better when I read his acknowledgments and thanked unnamed survivors for sharing their stories with him. I believe he approached this work with as much delicacy as he could and it could be a work that sparks important conversations.

In short, it’s a book I will be extremely careful in recommending, if I recommend it at all. With such heavy content, despite the rest of the story, it’s probably a book I will let most people discover on their own.

The Devil’s Punchbowl

The final book in the Penn Cage series before Greg Iles takes it into the Natchez Burning series (though technically still Penn Cage, it’s weird, a series within a series), I was ready pretty early on in the book to get it over with and revisit the second half of the series to see if I’ve changed a lot since I read them several years ago or if they really are significantly better than the early books (I’m guessing the latter).

The Devil’s Punchbowl finds Penn Cage running the city of Natchez, but in his two years as mayor, Cage has already become disenchanted with his grand plan to raise the town above all that it’s become. When an old friend from grade school requests a clandestine meeting with Cage and passes on sickening information about activities going on in the town, Cage can’t ignore it. When his friend ends up dead, Cage makes it a personal campaign to catch the bad guys–even if it means getting tangled up with a federal sting operation.

While better than Turning Angel, I didn’t enjoy The Devil’s Punchbowl as much as I’ve enjoyed other books that Iles has written. This one also was pretty gratuitous with sexual content (though I will say that, as it deals with the underworld, it’s at least a little more fitting to the context, even if it’s not enjoyable to read) and at times very graphic. This book definitely needs trigger warnings for rape/sexual abuse and graphic violence, specifically against animals.

The Devil’s Punchbowl is fast-paced, as Iles books always are, but once again it fell flat of my expectations. What has drawn me to Iles’ works are the stories of intrigue mixed with politics and the courtroom. While Iles proves himself a master of thrillers in many sub-genres, turns out not all of them are up my alley. Which is OK, a thriller writer needs the ability to branch out or else risk becoming predictable.

This book is well-written but quite intense with the content it deals with, and not everyone will be able (or willing) to tolerate the detail Iles goes into, nor the plot twists he uses to move the story forward. I don’t want to say it’s inappropriate for people of delicate sensibilities, but I can’t think of a better way to phrase it. The first three books of the Penn Cage series require some thought before diving in.

Turning Angel

I’m not sure whether I like series that don’t necessarily build on each other. And by that I mean the difference between, say, The Lord of the Rings movies and the Die Hard movies. Both are series with the same characters, but if you jump into The Lord of the Rings out of order, you’ll be playing catch up. With Die Hard, you’ll probably recognize that the character existed before but any background you need will be provided for you so you can dive into whatever movie you have on hand. Greg Iles’ Penn Cage series is like that, same character, references to the previous books, but not quite crucial to read in order.

Turning Angel, the second Penn Cage book, finds Cage still in Natchez writing and getting involved in the community. When his childhood friend, Dr. Drew Elliott, is identified as the prime suspect in the murder of a high school girl, Cage quickly finds himself in over his head. The only way he can vindicate his friend of the murder charge is by finding the real murderer–but as Cage starts digging he puts himself squarely in the danger zone, and saving his friend could cost Cage his own life.

I’ll be completely honest, this is the worst book I’ve read by Iles (and there was one book that I didn’t even bother finishing, so that’s saying something). Not only does it seem to fall completely flat compared to other Penn Cage novels, but the approach he takes to a 40+-year-old man having an affair with a 17-year-old girl is frankly disturbing. While I’m not so naive as to think there aren’t young girls who want to be involved with older men, I don’t really agree that it needs to be normalized. And the way Iles’ writes the character of Mia Burke, seeming to not care at all when older men–even teachers–check her out, seems rather unbelievable to me.

Although Iles writes the book with lots of fast-paced action and writes an intriguing court case-building story, I just can’t get past the premise. And given the premise, it’s not surprising then that the book is full of sexual content, consensual and non-consensual. Thus, it does warrant some trigger warnings for readers.

All in all, I can’t say the book is worth reading. I’m glad I got it at a 10 books for $1 sale so I’m not out any real money. It’s well written, but for me personally, I’m just not sure it was worth writing.

The Quiet Game

At long last, I cycled back to the beginning of Greg Iles series about Penn Cage. I accidentally jumped into Iles’ books in the middle of the Natchez Burning series, and I’ve basically read all over the place since then.

In The Quiet Game readers meet Penn Cage, a former DA making his living now as a novelist. Cage is returning home to Natchez, Mississippi, in the wake of his wife’s death. Once there, Cage can’t help but get caught up in a decades-old murder. On the surface, it seems like a civil rights race murder, not uncommon in Natchez’s tumultuous past. But as Cage keeps asking questions, it becomes clear that there’s a lot more hiding beneath the surface. Cage has the chance to publicly solve this case and also find some closure to his own past, but doing so might cost him everything.

This book read similarly to what I remember of the Natchez Burning series, packed full of action and unafraid to tackle issues of racism and age-old hatred. Iles doesn’t shy away from the dark history of his town, and though his characters can be rough around the edges, they come through the pages as very real, relatable people.

I will be honest, I did end up taking a break from this book, about two thirds of the way in, because Iles wasn’t leaving any of the romance up to the reader’s imagination (of course, by the time I stopped the only action left in the book was of the thriller variety, not sexual). While I recall sex in Iles’ other books, at times this did seem excessive and gratuitous. I get how the romance with the old flame was pivitol to the story, but a lot of it could have been left to the imagination.

Another warning for readers, Iles’ characters, as mentioned, are rough around the edges. They speak crudely, everything from swearing to slang and derogatory terms. And while I would say, for the most part, it’s in keeping with at least the stereotypical image of a southern town divided by race and stuck decades behind present day, it still may be hard or plain unpleasant for some readers.

All in all, while I enjoyed the story line of this book, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I recall enjoying that Natchez Burning series. And while it’s nice to get to know more about the character of Penn Cage, it’s probably not a book I will keep and reread.

Black Cross

Everything I’ve read so far by Greg Iles has been in the same genre–modern day suspense. But Black Cross was a change up for me, moving into historical fiction and suspense. But Iles proved himself a master in historical fiction, too. Not that I’m surprised, as the Natchez Burning series required a fair amount of historical research to tell the story he wrote.

Black Cross is a World War II story. American Mark McConnell is a pacifist and scientist who’s been working in England when he’s recognized as one of two men perfect for a secret mission into the heart of Germany. Along with Jonas Stern, McConnell must sneak into a Nazi concentration camp where new poisonous gasses are being developed and tested. Their success could change the tide of the war, and could spell victory or defeat for the D-Day invasion.

But things start going wrong from the moment they step foot in Germany, and McConnell and Stern quickly start to realize they’ve only been told partial truths and blatant lies. They can’t trust what they’ve been told, they’ll have to rely on their own consciences.

A mixture of fact and fiction, Black Cross poses a challenging question that comes up during times of war or discussions of philosophy: the idea of putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few. Iles’ characters are faced with this exact question. They know their mission will benefit allied troops by destroying the poisonous gas, but especially for pacifist McConnell, the sacrifice demanded may be too much.

I did feel like the story took a while to get going, though I understand the need to develop the characters and give them the tools they needed for their mission. But the book was halfway done before they even landed in Germany.

While you knew for the most part where the story was going, Iles weaves in enough suspense to keep you guessing about how things will end for each character. No one is safe. And that kind of writing I find very enjoyable.

True Evil

One of the things I enjoy about Greg Iles is that, even with standalone books, they are still interrelated, with characters from one book or series making appearances in others.

When FBI agent Alex Morse’s Sister dies, Morse is left with a charge: to save her nephew. Morse’s sister believes she was murdered. After some digging, Morse discovers what she believes is a pattern, but the hard part is proving it. Morse has a cluster of cases of suspicious deaths in Natchez, and the one common factor is a local divorce attorney who was contacted by the spouses– including Morse’s brother-in-law.

Now Morse has a new lead, because the attorney has a new client. Morse needs to convince Dr Chris Shepard that he’s in danger from his wife, and that she really has a case to pursue. But time is running out, and Morse stands to lose everything.

True Evil was a fast-paced story, kind of unique in it’s style. It sounds like an outlandish conspiracy at first, but Iles goes into the science and creates a scheme so his villains can commit the perfect crime.

My only frustration with the book is the addition of gratuitous sex scenes that really don’t make a difference to the storyline, nor add any depth to the character.

Otherwise, Iles proves himself as a quality thriller writer, creating relatable characters and intriguing situations that keep you interested right until the end.

Cemetery Road

Since I first read one of his books about a year ago, Greg Iles has stood out as a quality writer of historical fiction sagas. So I jumped at the chance to get an advanced copy of his upcoming book, Cemetery Road.

D.C. reporter Marshall McEwan has spent the last 30 years hiding from various moments in his past, but when he returns to his small Mississippi hometown, everything floats the the surface.

Marshall is fighting to keep hold of his dying father’s newspaper, scheming to save the woman he loves from her unhappy marriage, and looking for answers about his surrogate father’s death. By these goals out him at odds with the Poker Club, a collection of men who run the town, unofficially, and are willing to do anything it takes to achieve their goals.

Going against the Poker Club puts everything in jeopardy, even his life. And suddenly everything starts unraveling for Marshall, and in order to get his life back in order, he has to face the past and finally put it to rest.

In classic Iles style, Cemetery Road has a lot going on, and a lot of it’s traumatic. This book did seem a little more edgy or gritty than the Natchez Burning trilogy (though, it’s also been a year since I read it). It seemed to have more explicit sexual content and cursing than I recall in the trilogy.

That said, it’s still a fast-paced page turner full of twists and turns. The good guys aren’t quite as good as they appear to be, and the story seems to wrestle with the idea of the lesser of two evils.

Iles writes a different kind of political thriller. In small, rural towns, Iles writes about the powerful few who run the town, and the brave others willing to fight and die for the good of the town. Instead of spies and espionage, Iles writes about the kind of political battles that people might fight on a daily basis at home.

While I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as the Natchez Burning trilogy (what can I say, I like series), Cemetery Road was still a quality book and a good read. If you’re looking for a different kind of thriller, look for it when it hits shelves in March.

Mississippi Blood

I timed my dive into Greg Iles’ trilogy at the perfect time. I wasn’t even half way through Natchez Burning when I got my mitts on an advanced reader copy of Mississippi Blood, the final installment of the trilogy.

In Mississippi Blood, the excitement goes (mostly) from on the streets into the courtroom, where Dr. Tom Cage is tried for the murder of his former nurse, the even that was catalyst to the tragedy and adventures that followed. While you might expect the court room to get a little dull, Iles keeps the excitement up. In the court room, we learn little by little the true events, and all the pieces begin to fall into place.

Additionally, there is plenty of action going on outside the court room. For while many adversaries are out of the picture, some still remain a real and present danger to Natchez Mayor Penn Cage and his family.

Iles also keeps us guessing, because as the trial progresses, we learn of half truths and hidden motives,and the final reveal doesn’t come until the final pages. And when you realize it, I’ll bet that you, like me, never saw it coming.

Iles keeps the final book in this trilogy as exciting and suspenseful as the first books, making it a trilogy that is fun to read all the way through. The only complaint I had was that I got tired of the mayor’s constant angst with his father’s lawyer, despite having been told that he, the mayor, would be privy to exactly none of the defense strategy and information. Without giving it all away, I can sympathize with the mayor, but, at the same time, the rants–to himself and to others–got a little tiresome to read.

All in all, Iles keeps the story moving, and it’s worth all 700 pages.

Throughout the entire series, Iles has dealt with history and race very neatly, tapping in to the past for inspiration, and giving a very possible (and likely very real) representation of race in more rural areas even today. The series definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted–it is full of violence, swearing and, to a lesser degree, sex. But Iles isn’t gratuitous in any of it, instead using it to develop characters and add depth and reality to the story.

So if you enjoy history, thrillers, adventure and good writing, give the Natchez Burning series a try. And look for Mississippi Blood, hitting shelves on March 21.