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.
Although it takes place in Natchez, Miss., and is flavored with the violence and seamy undertones of a Southern Gothic, this fourth thriller by Iles (Spandau Phoenix) owes just as much to a familiar parallel universe where wealthy male lawyers double as tragic heroes, women are invariably smart and attractive, and trials are by definition "high profile." After his wife's death, Penn Cage, a former Houston prosecutor and a bestselling suspense novelist, retreats to his parents' home in Natchez with his grieving young daughter. The healing process is interrupted when Cage learns that someone is blackmailing his father, a saintly family doctor who once made a lethal mistake. In tracing the source of his father's moral dilemma, Cage stumbles upon a trail of lies surrounding the unsolved murder of a black man in 1968. He determines to reopen the case, even though his antebellum hometown is smoldering with racial tension. With the assistance of Caitlin Masters, the attractive, smart and ambitious publisher of the local newspaper, Cage gradually uncovers an intricate conspiracy that reaches up to the highest levels of the FBI. Forced to confront powerful Judge Leo Marston, who nearly destroyed his father in pursuing an unrelated, unfounded malpractice accusation decades before, Cage must also face Marston's daughter, Livy, his old high school sweetheart, who tries to persuade Cage to let sleeping dogs lie. It is difficult at times to sympathize with Cage, who proselytizes about truth, justice and obligation, yet destroys evidence to protect his father and fails to properly shield his loved ones as he single-mindedly pursues the case. Still, this ably crafted, richly atmospheric legal thriller is engrossing, and readers will forgive Iles's protagonist a few shortcomings. Agent, Aaron Priest. Major ad/promo; 15-city author tour; British rights to Hodder Headline; audio rights to Recorded Books. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.