In part I of this review, I basically gave you a synopsis of the book, told you a little bit about Greg Iles and his accident, and quoted 2 very big name authors in their appreciation of Natchez Burning. In this post, I want to give you some personal observations that made the book work so well for me. Here they are, in the order that they appeared/happened.
1. There are a ton of very interesting primary characters, both good guys - Tom and Penn Cage, Henry Sexton, Caitlin Masters, Walt Garrity, John Kaiser, and Sleepy Johnston - and bad guys - Brody Royal, Frank, Forrest, Snake, and Billy Knox, Randall Regan, Glen Morehouse, and Sonny Thorfield. These are just the primary characters from 2005. This doesn't count the central characters from the 1960's - Viola Turner, Pooky Wilson, Albert Norris, Jimmy Revels, Luther Davis. And I'm telling you that there are several dozen more ancillary characters. But here's the thing - I didn't have any trouble keeping track of who was who. Almost at no time did I say: "Now who's this guy/girl?" With the state of my mind, that says a lot about this author's ability to make his characters memorable.
2. Iles describes a particularly heinous race crime as early as page 16. It sets the stage for a whole bunch more that follows. As I mentioned before, it's tough to read, even 50 years after the events laid out in this book. (Remember, it's fiction based on fact.)
3. I got a different set of shakes/willies on page 18 when we find out that Frank Knox got a lot of his weapons in the '60's from somebody he knew at Fort Polk, Louisiana. Why would I care, you ask? Because I did my basic training for the Army Reserve there in 1969. Not a fun place or experience. Of course, it was better than being drafted during the Vietnam era! (My lottery number was 152. I would have gone.)
4. On page 30, we get a little dose of sympathy for one of the bad guys. This happens periodically throughout the book. I give Iles credit for trying to add a little grey to very clear black and white pictures.
5. On page 63, there's a passage about Tom Cage and his nurse, Viola Turner (from the '60's). It made me think of a Dallas episode with JR when it was a hit show back in the '70's. How random is that?
6. Page 87, Henry reads a letter that came from Swan, the daughter of Albert Norris. She taught Henry how to play the piano and a whole bunch more. Loved the letter.
7. On 171, Penn talks about how, when he ran for mayor, he promised educational reform. Now, 2 years later, he says that he has largely failed. I like that Iles throws in some political stuff with Penn - since he is the Natchez mayor.
8. On page 224, Henry spends 10 pages explaining to Penn what happened back in the '60's with the racial crimes. After reading a 1/3 of the book, it helped to put it all in context. In fact, on page 233, I uttered my 1st "Wow."
9. On 273, Iles brings in a new character, and for the next 3 pages he combines drama with humor. It was a nice little interlude.
10. 376-381, a great exchange among Penn, Caitlin, his fiancee and a newspaper editor, and Henry, the reporter who has spent decades trying to get proof of the murders that took place back in the '60's.
11. 385 - A furrowed brow AND an OMG.
12. 450 - I shed tears for a character I only just met. That's how good Iles is.
13. 535 - Caitlin planks for 3 minutes. Are you kidding me? I can barely do a minute. If you don't know what planking is, look it up.
14. 550-551 - More tears.
15. 558 - Just to further prove to you how random I am (are any of you really surprised?), there's a line at the top of the page that goes: "Her eyes are clear and bright..." Do you all know where you've seen those words before? That's right. It comes from The Zombies' hit song from 1964, She's Not There. Pretty cool, huh?
16. 673 - John Kaiser, the FBI agent, explains how snipers shoot through glass. Very interesting and enlightening.
Obviously, it's not important what the specific page numbers are. And you're not going to read the book and reference what I've written above. The whole purpose of this list is just to show you how I was engaged throughout the book. I thought the book slowed down just a tad over the last couple of hundred pages. But, I have to say that this could be more about my attention span (788 pages, after all) than anything that Iles did. So, allowing for all possible factors, I'm still giving this a 3.75/4. And, remember - it's only book 1 of a trilogy. I expect to have many personal notes from you people thanking me for recommending Natchez Burning.