have described THIRD DEGREE, the new novel by
under-appreciated wundermeister Greg Iles, to friends as a
“thriller,” but that is probably inaccurate. It
certainly has thriller elements, but large parts of it are given
over to domestic drama, southern gothic and romance. What the book
ultimately should be classified under is “must-read,”
which is what you will do if you begin perusing the first couple of
pages of this addictive, quietly hyperdriven work.
THIRD DEGREE takes place over several hours of a day that begins
with unexpected news and goes downhill from there. Laurel Shields
is the mother of two, the wife of Warren and the (former) lover of
Danny. As the novel opens, she is the recipient of the most
inopportune result that a home pregnancy test is capable of giving.
To make matters worse, Warren, who is a prominent pediatrician in
their Athens Point, Mississippi community, seems to be going off
the rails. His medical partnership is on the receiving end of an
IRS audit, and he has spent the previous night searching through
every book in their home library. Laurel doesn’t know what he
is looking for, even as she has no idea whether Warren or Danny is
the father of her unborn child.
What Laurel attempts to do is to go through this day like any
other, even as she wonders what she is going to do, with whom and
when. She won’t have the luxury of making a leisurely
decision, however. Before the sun sets, her life will begin
unraveling for reasons that she only gradually will be able to
comprehend. It turns out that Laurel is not the only one in the
Shields household with secrets; a number of disparate elements come
together explosively in the book. By day’s end, Laura, her
children and her husband will find themselves in mortal danger as
actions of the remote and recent past come home to roost in a way
that can only end badly (at best).
There is enough drama and excitement here to fill three books, due
in no small part to Iles’s meticulous plotting, within which
the reader will find explosive and occasionally heart-rending
revelations planted with exquisite care. A cautionary tale of quiet
brilliance, THIRD DEGREE will keep you reading and thinking long
into the night.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011