Greg Iles’ thriller, “Natchez Burning,” begins in the mid-1960’s. Albert Norris is a black business owner whose Music Emporium is one of the few places frequented by blacks and whites alike. It also serves as a secret rendezvous for interracial couples. One terrible night everything changes when Ku Klux Klansmen set the music store on fire and burn Albert alive. Brody Royal, a Klan member and the richest man around, discovered that his daughter had been meeting a black musician who worked for Albert and hired some other KKK members to take care of the matter.

Dr. Tom Cage, a physician who treats blacks as well as whites, is a well-known and respected citizen and pillar of the community. In 2005, Dr. Cage is accused in the death of Viola Turner, the beautiful black nurse who worked with him in the 1960s. Viola left Natchez 40 years ago but had come home to die. Lincoln Turner, Viola’s son, knows that Dr. Cage was treating his mother for cancer and believes the doctor murdered her.

Penn Cage, former prosecutor and current mayor of Natchez, is frustrated that his father, Tom Cage, refuses Penn’s help in defending himself. Did Dr. Cage and Viola have an affair 40 years ago? Did his father assist in Viola’s death? His father does nothing to help his defense by refusing to answer Penn’s questions, claiming doctor-patient confidentiality.

Penn joins forces with Henry Sexton, a local journalist from Ferriday. Penn wants to get to the bottom of Viola’s murder, even if it means dredging up dark secrets from the past about his father and the possibility exists that he will also put his family in danger.

For many years, Henry Sexton has been investigating several unsolved murders from the 1960s. Henry believes that the Double Eagles, an offshoot extremist group of 20 or so members of the KKK, committed the murders.

Viola’s brother disappeared along with some other black men, and the prospect exists that the Double Eagles may have murdered them. The ambitions of the Double Eagles went higher, though, stretching as far as the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

In “Natchez Burning” Iles tackles the violence of the civil rights era head on. Politics, greed, race, forbidden love and dark family secrets play important roles in this epic novel. It is tense and disturbing, so if violence in books troubles you, you may want to think twice about reading it. The crimes include murder, rape and other forms of torture—crimes that took place during this disturbing period of our nation’s history and are still happening in the present.

I was intrigued when I learned that the author bases the novel on actual people and events. Stanley Nelson, editor of the Concordia Sentinel, investigated and wrote about the murders. Henry Sexton’s character is based on the actions of Stanley Nelson. The Albert Norris character in the novel was real-life Frank Morris, whose shoe shop was torched in 1964. The Double Eagles group is based on a KKK splinter cell named The Silver Dollar Group. Iles bases the Dr. Tom Cage character on his own father.

I was pleased to discover that “Natchez Burning” is the first book in a trilogy since the ending left some loose ends. I believe it’s the author’s best work yet. He always writes best-selling novels, but the writing in this one is superb. I am looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

“Natchez Burning” is nearly 800 pages long and the audiobook almost 36 hours. I listened to the audiobook narrated by David LeDoux, who did an excellent job with all the characters“Natchez Burning” is available in print, audiobook and downloadable audiobook formats at the Joplin Public Library.

Advertisements