Review

The Devil’s Punchbowl

by Greg Iles

Greg Iles resides in Natchez, Mississippi, and has chosen the
Southern region of the United States as the setting for many of his
novels. THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL may be his finest and most
nuanced work to date, with the action taking place in Natchez. This
is the third time Iles has featured Mayor Penn Cage. I think this
is one of the most interesting character names I’ve ever
heard and wonder if he chose it from the last names of two popular
actors --- Sean Penn and Nicolas Cage.

The subject of the book’s title represents several things.
First, “The Devil’s Punchbowl” is an infamous
area found north of Natchez where outlaws were known to dump the
bodies of their victims. More significantly to this novel, it is
the name of one of the bars found on the Magnolia Queen, a gambling
riverboat. It is also the nickname given to the torture room on the
same riverboat, where the nefarious owners of the vessel commit
heinous acts of brutality against both employees and ill-fated
guests.

Mayor Cage has not seen any reason to poke his nose into the
gambling riverboats that are run by the Golden Parachute Company
because, quite frankly, they bring much needed revenue into his
depressed town. Also, since the action is taking place in the wake
of Hurricane Katrina, it is good for the local citizens and
visitors to have an outlet that takes their minds off of the death
and destruction Katrina has brought to the area. It is only when an
old friend and former classmate of Cage’s, Timothy Jessup,
brings forth evidence of many serious crimes taking place on the
Magnolia Queen that Cage realizes he needs to investigate further.
It is a mere 24 hours later that Jessup, a card dealer on the
Magnolia Queen, is found dead --- the apparent victim of a brutal
torture session at the hands of both men and attack dogs.

Cage is immediately spurred to action. Gambling, prostitution
and human trafficking are just the tip of the iceberg with the
claims Jessup turned over. At the heart of the Golden
Parachute’s criminal ventures is the illegal blood sport of
dog fighting. This activity, made infamous in recent years with the
Michael Vick case, attracts everyone from rap stars and NFL players
to Arab princes and Chinese billionaires. Jessup was in the process
of bringing complete evidence to Cage at the time of his brutal
murder. Cage is overwhelmed by Jessup’s death and the fact
that the rape of young girls and slaughter of dogs and other
animals might be happening right under his nose.

It is when Jonathan Sands and his henchman, Seamus Quinn ---
infamous Irish gangsters and local leaders of Golden Parachute ---
directly threaten Cage and his family that the mayor realizes he is
about to take on a syndicate much larger and more internationally
connected then he ever imagined. Cage, however, is not without
resources. He calls on those individuals in his life who can help
him battle the evil that has a stranglehold on his town: news
reporter and ex-lover Caitlin Masters; helicopter pilot and war
hero Danny McDavitt; legendary local physician and Penn’s
father Tom Cage; retired Texas Ranger and old friend of Tom
Cage’s Walt Garrity, and special forces veteran and member of
Blackhawk Risk Management Dan Kelly.

Cage and his group set off on a plan to bring down Sands, Quinn
and the rest of the Golden Parachute group. As they gain more
information, they find that Sands is actually a key informant in a
National Security Case that Homeland Security and the Justice
Department have been building against a Chinese billionaire, who is
the employer of Sands and behind all of the illegal international
activities that include the crimes aboard the Magnolia Queen. Can
Cage and his crew battle and defeat an enemy with endless funding
and the protection of an international syndicate? Can they do so
knowing that it might be in direct conflict with the workings of
the U.S. government?

What Greg Iles has accomplished with THE DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL
is a complex and thoroughly engaging novel that does not possess
one boring moment. The nearly 600-page book reads quickly, and
there are so many characters and situations going on, it’s a
tribute to Iles at how deftly he juggles all of these situations
while continuing to drive the plot to its electric conclusion. I
wish more of Iles’s work would find its way to the big
screen. His novel 24 HOURS was made into the successful Charlize
Theron and Kevin Bacon film, Trapped. I believe THE
DEVIL’S PUNCHBOWL is perfect material for another film
treatment. Here’s hoping we see Mayor Penn Cage and the rest
of these compelling characters again very soon.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on December 29, 2010

The Devil’s Punchbowl
by Greg Iles

  • Publication Date: December 29, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket Star
  • ISBN-10: 141652455X
  • ISBN-13: 9781416524557