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Penn Cage is no stranger to death. As a Houston prosecutor he sent sixteen men to death row, and watched seven of them die. But now, in the aftermath of his wife's death, the grief-stricken father packs up his four-year-old daughter, Annie, and returns to his hometown in search of healing. But peace is not what he finds there.
Natchez, Mississippi, is the jewel of the antebellum South, a city of old money and older sins, where passion, power, and racial tensions seethe beneath its elegant façade. After twenty years away, Penn is stunned to find his own family trapped in a web of intrigue and danger.
Determined to save his father from a ruthless blackmailer, Penn stumbles over a link to the town's darkest secret: the thirty-year-old unsolved murder of a black Korean War veteran. But what drives him to act is the revelation that this haunting mystery is inextricably bound up in his own past. Under a blaze of national media attention, Penn reopens the case, only to find local records destroyed, the FBI file sealed, and the town closing ranks against him.
Penn joins forces with Caitlin Masters, a beautiful young newspaper publisher, on a quest that will lead from the bayous of the South to the highest reaches of the U.S. government. His need to right a terrible wrong pits him against the FBI, the powerful judge who nearly destoyed his family, and his most dangerous adversary: a woman he loved more than twenty years before, and who haunts him still. His crusade for justice will ultimately lead him into a packed Mississippi courtroom, where he fights a battle that could end a decades-old silence and force the truth to be spoken at last.
Review: Is there space in the overcrowded courtroom for one more writer of sharp, very suspenseful legal thrillers? Yes--if that writer is Greg Iles, who has proven in such varied efforts as Black Cross, Mortal Fear, and Spandau Phoenix that he knows how to squeeze the last drop of suspense out of all sorts of situations.
Iles immediately makes us feel both sympathy and empathy for his glossy hero, Penn Cage--a former ace Texas prosecutor turned suspense novelist whose sales are up there in the John Grisham Himalayan range.
Trying to cope with the recent death of his wife, Cage takes his 5-year-old daughter to Florida's Disney World, where the child sadly sees visions of her mother everywhere in the fantasy-filled environment. Wouldn't a trip to his parents' stately home in Natchez be more soothing for all concerned? Wrong, as it turns out--and before Cage can catch his breath, he's deeply involved in several dangerous matters. His father, a dedicated doctor, is being blackmailed for a past mistake in judgment, and a powerful judge (who just happens to be the father of Penn's high school sweetheart) has a nasty personal agenda of his own. Then there's the unsolved 1968 murder case of a black man, which Cage insists on reopening with the help of an attractive, ambitious newspaper publisher.
Iles does for Natchez what John Berendt did for Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, creating a gothic Southern landscape where elegance and depravity walk hand in hand. --Dick Adler
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