Tag Archives: Turning Angel

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.