Review

Turning Angel

by Greg Iles


She rolled with the creek, which wound through the woods toward
the paper mill and crashed into the Mississippi River on a
maelstrom. She never meant to cause trouble. She was a quiet girl,
brilliant and full of life. When she laughed, others laughed with
her. When she cried, she hid her tears. She was blessed with many
gifts and took none for granted. At seventeen, she had already
brought honor to the town. No one would have predicted this
end.
"

Kate Townsend was found dead after her body floated downstream and
was caught in the elbow of a fallen tree. She had been a beautiful
high school senior who was looking forward to going to Harvard. Her
future had always seemed infinite, especially during the years she
attended the prestigious, mostly white St. Stephen's Prep. She was
raped, sodomized and murdered near her Natchez home just a few
weeks before graduation.

Her death "would whip the town into another kind of maelstrom, one
that would make the river seem placid by comparison." The explosion
that erupts as a result of her death exposes Natchez's questionable
and/or illegal alliances, political shenanigans, drug trafficking,
overt or covert violence, and the realization that sexual predators
are living among the townspeople. Parents in Natchez had no idea
what their teenagers experimented with and consummated. Layers of
the city's dirty secrets are peeled back to reveal a seamy side of
Natchez that folks had been denying for years.

Into this vortex of grief, horror, drug deals, deception and
infidelity overseen by redneck cops and a dishonest district
attorney strides Penn Cage, the hero of Greg Iles's THE QUIET GAME.
The former attorney turned successful novelist is the conscience of
the most recent Iles novel, TURNING ANGEL. Penn is a very popular
guy, respected for his honesty, loyalty and reputation as a fine
lawyer. He grew up in Natchez, where his parents still live; after
15 years as a Texas prosecutor and the death of his wife, he moved
back there with his daughter Annie.

The focus of the investigation into Kate's murder centers on Dr.
Drew Elliott, a beloved physician and icon to the town's residents,
both white and black. He and Penn, who are considered town heroes,
have known each other since childhood. Their affinity for one
another has endured since Drew saved Penn's life when they were
kids. They are both alumni of St. Stephen's Prep and serve together
on the school board.

At an evening meeting, the board is told of Kate's death. They are
stunned, outraged, confused and frightened. The meeting is
adjourned and all but Drew get up to leave. "As [Penn Cage] reaches
for the office doorknob," [he freezes] … his friend is still
sitting at the table "with tears pouring down his face." Penn is
perplexed but remains behind in an effort to comfort Drew and try
to calm him down. He never expected that this act of compassion for
a friend would change all of their lives and bore a hole right
through the facades that held Natchez together.

Drew asks Penn to stay behind with him and demands that he take a
few dollars to ensure that [their] "discourse will be shielded by
attorney-client privilege." With great reluctance Penn does as he's
asked. The story Drew has to tell may not be new but is certainly
shocking.

Despite their age difference he and Kate were lovers and had
planned to run away after her graduation. "I knew Kate a lot better
than anyone knows. I was in love with her." Penn says, "…Tell
me she was eighteen, Drew." She would've been in two weeks. Penn
whispers, "That's statutory rape in Mississippi…especially
with [a more than 20-year] age difference between you."

Penn ruminates: "A man walks the straight and narrow all his life;
he follows the rules, stays within the lines; then one day he makes
a misstep. He crosses a line and sets in motion a chain of events
that will take from him everything he has and damn him forever in
the eyes of those he loves…" and all who held him in esteem.
"Dr. Drew Elliott is such a man. How did Drew Elliott transform
himself from hero into monster? He reached out for love, and in the
reaching pulled a whole town down on top of him." In this small
provincial enclave, who is going to understand that Drew and Kate
really had been soul mates? Who among them will acknowledge that
the two had fallen deeply in love? Who won't see him as a sexual
predator not even worthy of a fair hearing? To them he is evil
incarnate --- someone they trusted who betrayed them with a young
girl, now dead.

As the story lunges ahead with tremendous speed toward the
surprising climax, readers get a broad view of the other players in
this seething mystery: Cyrus White, a drug dealer [and ironically
Kate's supplier] whose hobby is finding new ways to torture people;
Marko Bakic, a Croatian exchange student at the prep school who has
seen horrors in his home country most military men could not endure
(he came to the U.S. expecting to become a drug lord); Mia Burke, a
senior at St. Stephen's and a more than dependable babysitter for
Annie, Penn's daughter --- she has a crush on him and helps him
gather information about the case; Penn's love interest, Caitlin,
the publisher of the local newspaper and an investigative reporter
whose stories keep her on the road; and Quentin Avery, the civil
rights lawyer who agrees to represent Drew at trial if and when it
comes to that.

Greg Iles is a writer of enormous talent with a canny knack not
only for creating believable characters, but for moving them
through tightly woven plots that could take place in any town, USA.
Readers are immediately drawn into the tension aroused by the
mystery of Kate's murder. The characters are three-dimensional and
fit their roles. "Some stories must wait to be told. Any writer
worth his salt knows this. Sometimes you wait for events to
percolate in your subconscious until a deeper truth emerges; other
times you're simply waiting for the principals to die. Sometimes it
is both. This story is like that." Any reader with a taste for a
literary challenge in this genre is going to be more than
satisfied. TURNING ANGEL is a definite keeper.

Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011

Turning Angel
by Greg Iles

  • Publication Date: November 25, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 0743454162
  • ISBN-13: 9780743454162