This is my first review on an audio book in English. As the book is narrated in English I decided to write my review the same way. My native language is German so my apologies in advance for possible strange verbalizations.
I am quite a sort of “freshman” on audio books. This year I discovered the many advantages they have. As a mother and full time responsible in my job, I did not really read a book anymore although I once enjoyed it: lack of time, no desire in reading or too many pauses between the chapters so I often already had forgotten what it actually was about. Listening to a story made it possible for me to plunge into a story during driving, cooking, sports or even before sleeping. Now it is almost incredible not to grab an audio book and listen to it.
The novel I will give my full attention to on today is “Natchez Burning” the latest part of the Penn Cage series by Greg Iles. I actually came to the series by accident when taking the 2nd part “Turning Angel” (German title: “Blackmail”) from my local library this summer. First I thought: ‘All right: seems to be an interesting story – the characters get their time to develop – quite nice to listen to.’ But the deeper I got into that entangled tale the more I liked it the way how all the different strings came together ending in a kind of finale I could not get my ears off. After that I was addicted to the series and could not wait to listen to the other two parts that confirmed my intuition to really enter a great narration.
Penn Cage is a complex but straight character with principles and the confidence to go for the good – unless this sometimes is a question of someone’s point of view because as a prosecutor he once sent a couple of convicts to the death chamber. Now as a mayor in his Southern homeland Natchez, he sometimes uses unconventional methods to reveal profound crimes. But this is the interesting core: the protagonist himself has often to deal with his past and his decisions he makes to bring the truth to the surface. But the very distinctive thing to many other novels I have read or listened to is, that next to the protagonist most of the other characters – regardless of their appearance or meaning during that story – get a sort of equal status by telling all details about their role in the story that are necessary to know in order to recognize the scope of the whole narration.
There are certainly listeners (or readers as well) who quickly feel bored or less entertained by this kind of telling a story as it sometimes goes far afield regarding its characters or also historical events as in “Natchez Burning”. I think it is one of the big plot devices that give this story its pulse – starting comparably even tempered then becoming increasingly noisy until ending in an inevitably fateful showdown where I sometimes was close to shut my ears from what I was listening to. It straightway reminded me of a literary version of Ravels ‘Bolero’.
Penn Cage tries to find out who is behind the sudden death of Viola Turner, a former black nurse who worked at his father’s medical office in the 60ies. She had disappeared for decades and now suddenly appears in Natchez – obviously for dying because she is terminal ill. He quickly gets suspicious that someone must end her life by force and had a motive. His investigations lead him to influential political circles and to a reporter of a local newspaper who already did detailed and long time research on the backers belonging to the so called Double Eagles – an extremely violent wing of the Ku Klux Klan and their hidden crimes from a bygone era.
Cage and her fiancée Caitlin Masters resurrect some antagonists they were not even able to foresee. The risks of their research surge up waves they can hardly escape from. The Double Eagles still have power and influence in that town Cage is the mayor and they use it to beware of the threat to them that their deep dark past could get revealed after 40 years. But Penn Cage’s need to rock the boat, finding out how his father possibly is involved in the events is stronger than to weigh the menace that comes straight towards him. So he gets deeper and deeper into the struggle of his father’s past making him stagger and pull the rug out from under him. Whom shall he believe or trust? Furthermore his investigations bring all to danger he loves and cares of…including himself.
Some concluding annotations about the narrator of the audio book David Ledoux: He is a great performer with an astonishing diversity in his voice. I was quite impressed that a man’s voice can even speak little Annie – Cage’s daughter – as credibly as an aged man speaking in a strong Southern slang – or giving his voice the feeling of self-confidence or menace the same easy way as being frightened or relieved just a moment later. Above all: I was able to understand the narration almost completely without the permanent help of a dictionary. Good narrating.
I can only say: stick to the story, have the endurance until showdown. You won’t regret it at all. I can’t wait to listen to the next part “The Bone Tree”. Thank you Mr. Iles for the pleasure I have by listening to your audio books.