Greg Iles writes of Dixie as a place where the past is never really past. In this thriller, Penn Cage, a lawyer and mayor of Natchez, Mississippi struggles with a tangle of small town issues involving family, racial divide, and the KKK and others who take even more extreme positions on race relations.
Penn’s father Tom Cage, a beloved local physician whose practice knows no racial boundaries, fathered a child by a black employee in her twenties. Viola Turner departs to Chicago where she raises their child on a modest stipend from Tom. The tension between Tom’s unacknowledged love child and Tom Cage pervades the story. No one’s hands are clean.
The existence of a splinter group of KKK members who style themselves the Double Eagles is an open secret in Natchez. For the Double Eagles, the KKK was far too passive. Murder and mayhem are the Double Eagles calling cards and nothing is too extreme. Brody Royal, the leader of the Double Eagles and a successful business man has statewide political contacts and cronies in the leadership of the state highway patrol. There is no limit to the lengths Brody Royal and the Double Eagles will go to ensure the past remains buried. Only the Adams county sheriff is free of Brody Royal’s influence and positioned to support Penn Cage.
When Viola Turner returns to Natchez dying of cancer and in pain, she turns to Tom Cage for a dignified death. Tom is prepared to ease Viola’s remaining days, but the Double Eagles learn of Viola’s return and inject her with a lethal dose of pain killer then frame Tom for murder. Penn rushes to his father’s defense, but Tom’s guilt over the affair renders him unwilling to communicate with his son.
Penn’s girlfriend, Caitlin, is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her father’s chain of papers and a tough aggressive agent for change. She teams up with Henry Sexton, publisher of the local Natchez paper to expose the Double Eagles and Brody Royal. Penn is torn between his loyalty to Caitlin and his desire to keep his father alive and out of jail.
Did I want to keep reading? The story is dark and was difficult for me to read at times. But Greg Iles writes masterfully with gut wrenching twists and turns all the way along, and the ending is thrilling if gruesome, so yes it’s a real page turner.