Book Review: Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (published by William Morrow)
Natchez Burning is set in modern day, in the city of Natchez, Mississippi, and tells the story of a well-loved and well-respected doctor who gets accused of murdering his old nurse from the 1960s. The nurse is African-American and her death sparks a chain of events that draws attention to old, unsolved murders from the sixties involving the Ku Klux Klan and a local group of men called the Double Eagles, who went rogue from the KKK and did the bidding of one of the area’s most prominent and wealthiest men. The problem is, decades later, the Double Eagles are still at it.
The main character is Penn Cage, the doctor’s son, and his point of view chapters are told in first person. There are more character chapters and their POVs are told in third person and I did find the switching between a bit jarring at first. Penn wants to save his dad and does all in his power to do so (some of his actions seem a bit ridiculous). There is a cast of characters from the sixties and from now, some the good guys, some the bad.
The tale jumps back in time to the sixties, and I enjoyed reading about the back stories of many of the characters and there’s insight into the mindset / rationale of some of the members of the Double Eagles. Penn needs the help of a journalist called Henry who has made it his life’s work to bring the Double Eagles, and the wealthy man who runs them, to justice for several murders in the sixties of people Henry was close to. Henry has lots of evidence and leads, but is threatened not to publish. It’s only when Penn rocks up does the FBI get involved, and the murders start getting solved.
This book is disappointing but also strangely compelling. The story it tells is good, but the way it tells it is dire. It's a massive book, at 800 odd pages and it really doesn't need to be. The first half could be slashed in half, and the second half - which reads like a different author wrote it - could also be cut down. If you can slog through the glut of too many words, lots of telling and little showing, bloated dialogue and the same information repeated over and over, then you'll be rewarded with a decent, fast paced last few chapters. But, be warned, the ending is not satisfactory – too many loose ends, and a scene with a character called Sleepy Johnston which is just terrible, because it is so unbelievable. AS IF Henry would do that! (I’ll say no more, as no spoilers here).
Natchez Burning went on so long that I resented it by the end, which is a shame because the action at the end was the best bit. I love big, chunky books (War and Peace is one of my favourites) but I hate needlessly long books and Natchez Burning was needlessly and frustratingly long.
So why did I keep reading to the end and punish myself?! Not because I love the author’s other works, this is the first Greg Iles I've read, and not because I loved the characters (Penn is irritating, his father is a selfish idiot and Penn's fiancée Caitlin is flat and insipid) but because the story of the unsolved murders from the sixties and what life was like then is intriguing and interesting. And a couple of the characters are likeable / believable, namely Henry, until the end (see above).
I didn’t know when I started reading this that it was number one in a trilogy (which explains all the loose ends) but I will certainly not be reading number two and three, part one was plenty big enough for me!
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley to review.
My rating: 2/5
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