is a 2014 historical mystery by Greg Iles. It follows skilled lawyer Penn Cage as he defends his father against a murder charge that exposes long-buried conspiracies and secrets. Published to great critical acclaim, Natchez Burning
is the fourth novel in the Penn Cage
series, but it’s the first of three books covering Penn’s dealings with this case. A prolific writer, Iles also penned the original script for Trapped
, a 2002 movie based on his own best-selling novel, 24 Hours
. He lives in Natchez, Mississippi.
Penn Cage is a southern lawyer who was once a successful prosecutor. He lives in Natchez, Mississippi. After a successful legal career, he’s now the town mayor. His father, Dr. Tom Cage, is the town’s well-respected doctor. He’s also a military veteran who served honourably. Penn never expects that his father’s reputation will be threatened. However, Dr. Cage is accused of murder.
It’s said that Dr. Cage murdered Viola Turner, an African American nurse, many years ago during the turbulent 1960s. Penn doesn’t believe his father is capable of such brutality, and the whole town is stunned by the revelation. Unwilling to let his father go down for a crime he surely didn’t commit, Penn plans to defend him against the charges. He knows how prosecutors work, and he thinks he can bring his father justice.
Dr. Cage, however, has other ideas. When Penn sits him down to him about Viola, Dr. Cage refuses to discuss her. He says it’s a breach of doctor-patient privilege, and he can’t do that to Viola. This frustrates Penn because he can’t help his father if he won’t talk, and Penn doesn’t know how to convince his father it’s the only option.
When Dr. Cage won’t talk about his past, let alone Viola, Penn knows it’s his responsibility to save his father, whether anyone helps him or not. Even so, Penn’s disillusioned and worried that his father might not be the community pillar Penn thought he was. Still, Penn believes in his father enough to keep going, and he feels it’s his duty as a son.
Town gossip had always suggested that Dr. Cage and Viola were lovers, and it’s no surprise when the rumours start up again. However, Dr. Cage swears he hadn’t seen Viola in over forty years. He eventually admits that she was dying of cancer, which he believes breaches doctor-patient privilege, but he knows he has to tell Penn something.
There’s not much evidence to support the case against Dr. Cage, though witnesses place him at Viola’s house on the night she died of a supposed adrenaline overdose. Dr. Cage doesn’t deny that he was there. This isn’t enough to convict him of murder, but since he’s the last person who saw Viola, he’s the only suspect. No one believes Viola killed herself—or, if she did, no one believes she acted alone.
Penn knows he needs help to clear his father’s name, so he turns to his fiancée, Caitlin. She’s an award-winning journalist and jumps at the opportunity to help Penn out. She and a fellow journalist work with Penn to uncover what happened around the time of Viola’s death and how Dr. Cage fits in to it all. What they discover is far worse than they imagined: Natchez has a very dark and brutal history.
The town was home to a group called the Double Eagles. They were a splinter group of the KKK headed by a wealthy and powerful man, but they were even crueller and wickeder than the Klan. Readers should be aware that Iles describes the atrocities they committed in great detail. Caitlin and her friend uncover these horrific accounts as they’re searching for evidence to clear Dr. Cage’s name.
Penn believes his father helped Viola kill herself because she was in so much pain, which means Dr. Cage had good intentions. However, Penn grows more suspicious the less his father talks. He’s temporarily distracted by Caitlin’s findings about the Double Eagles. Penn can’t help but wonder if his father was involved, due to his military past. He wonders if Dr. Cage had to kill people, even if he didn’t want to.
What he discovers for certain is that Viola’s brother had a relationship with a wealthy white girl many years ago. He was murdered because of it, and the case remains unsolved. Penn’s sure that this incident is linked to his father’s case, and he’s determined to find out how.
As this is the first book in a trilogy, the ending is left unresolved. Readers still don’t know the truth about Dr. Cage, but major conflicts have been planted for the series going forward.