Written by Greg Iles — Penn Cage is many things. He is a writer, a former top lawyer, and now Mayor of the historic Mississippi city of Natchez. However, history can wear many cloaks. As well as the romance of the river with its paddle boats, and the glory of the colonial mansions, the city has a darker past. In the early 1960s it was where a group of white supremacists took a stick and drew nine letters in a muddy sandbank beside the river. JFK, RFK, MLK. Two Kennedys and a King. All three were to die by an assassin’s bullet.
Cage is reaping the whirlwind which has blown up as a result of the attempts to unravel a decades old conspiracy. His father, a well-loved doctor, is on the run accused of killing a law officer. His fiancee, Caitlin Masters, is about to publish a story in her newspaper that will draw media attention not just from the USA, but all over the world. If she can locate The Bone Tree – the scene of evil deeds, deep in the Lusahatcha swamp – she knows that it will provide damning evidence not only of local race-hate killings, but may finally solve America’s longest running cold case.
There is an APB out on Penn’s father Tom Cage who’s implicated in the death of a black nurse. Shoot on sight. He is running because he knows that the state police is run by Forrest Knox, a sinister and ruthless white supremacist with links to The Double Eagles, who broke with the Klan because they found it too moderate. The remaining Double Eagles are now old men, but their hatred remains undimmed. Despite the presence of the incorruptible FBI in Natchez there are few who Penn can trust.
The book effortlessly keeps the different plot strands burning bright. Everything happens over a very short time frame, but Iles keeps the tension racked up. We are terrified for Caitlin, as her relentless quest to find The Bone Tree pushes her into yet more dangerous situations. We hold our breath over Tom Cage’s health as he tries to avoid capture, minus the vital drugs which keep his heart beating. We share Penn Cage’s frustration as he tries to stay on the right side of the law, despite facing corruption and treachery from every direction.
The narrative of The Bone Tree follows virtually seamlessly from Natchez Burning, the first book in this trilogy. Iles is such a fine writer that The Bone Tree will thrill new readers every bit as much as those who became immersed in previous events. Iles gives us a sense of place, a web of personal and present tragedies shot through with threads of history, almost unbearable violence and cruelty. However, above all these are the rock solid anchors of truth, love and honour. In this book, he takes us by the scruff of the neck and drags us through the flames of hell. We will survive, but may well leave a piece of our heart in the ashes.
If you like crime set in the Deep South also see the Dave Robicheux novels by James Lee Burke such as Creole Belle. And if you like Kennedy and King assassination theories try James Ellroy’s Underworld series.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars