TRUE EVIL is the title of Greg Isles's latest thriller. Most of the
action takes place in Jackson and Natchez, Mississippi. Isles draws
in readers with his seductive style as he presents the mythology of
the south and captures the ambience, atmosphere, lifestyles,
geography and heat reflected in the muddy waters of the Mississippi
First we meet Alexandra (Alex) Morse, a former hostage negotiator
for the FBI who is making an emergency trip to Jackson because her
older sister Grace has collapsed suddenly and is in the hospital.
This has been one tough year for Alex and her family: her father
passed away after being shot in a robbery, two months later her
mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and then Alex herself was
involved in an accident that left her disfigured and led to the
death of a fellow agent (her lover).
Encased in a glass room in a part of the hospital marked NEUROLOGY
ICU, Grace has suffered a stroke. As her life slowly slips away,
Grace uses every ounce of strength to say that Alex has to save
Jamie (Alex's nephew) from his father; Grace wants Alex to be made
aware of her husband's dark side. Alex is dumbfounded. Is Grace
delirious? Is her brain so damaged that she doesn't know what she's
saying? All of this is a shock, and Alex is trying to process this
information when Grace says, "Eeth a monther!" [He's a monster!]
She continues to describe the man that Bill Fennell really is. And
when he enters the room, it is obvious that Grace is terrified. All
of a sudden, she grabs a hold of Alex's blouse and utters, "Ed kiwd
me!" [He killed me!] She dies a few minutes later.
Alex is devastated and confused --- her brother-in-law killed her
sister? Could this be true? How does she take this in as she stands
next to her dead sibling? Whatever Grace meant, Alex grabs her
nephew and walks out of the hospital leaving behind a chunk of her
heart. Even a demoted but very savvy FBI agent is sometimes caught
up in the chaos of life's unexpected incidents of loss and pain,
grief and fear.
Alex is a good investigator who works night and day to find answers
to the unfolding catastrophe in her personal world. But when she
uncovers a strange conspiracy linked to a shady lawyer and a
mysterious doctor, she realizes that a number of "healthy spouses"
have died under perplexing circumstances. If she's right, then
these two have devised a way to help the ultra-rich who are seeking
a divorce or custody of their children keep their millions without
the headache of alimony or child support.
Alex uses her resources at the FBI to investigate her
brother-in-law and learns not only his dirty secrets but also his
link to these villains. As she expands her inquiries, she is able
to explore the attorney's finances and business holdings, some of
which are clearly bogus. As she probes a little more into the paper
trail, she further convinces herself that he is a procurer of
"customers" for a murderer (the fourth player in this complex and
highly suspenseful novel, Dr. Eldon Tarver), a mysterious man of
great repute who truly is both brilliant and insane. His
experiments are right out of a Dr. Mengele handbook. And the way he
uses his genius is mind blowing.
At this point Alex tracks down Dr. Chris Shepard, whose wife
visited the divorce lawyer very recently. Alex thus concludes that
the good doctor will be the next victim. When she approaches him
with the facts she has gathered, he doesn't believe her. "Calm
down, Dr. Shepard. You may not believe it at this moment, but I am
here to help you. Your life may be in danger...and you may be the
only person in a position to stop whomever is behind these
Dr. Shepard is willing to play along to prove her wrong. And thus,
he and Alex form an uneasy alliance wherein the doctor tries to
shoot down Alex's theory at every opportunity. "...I still say your
theory doesn't add up...the time factor...if I want to kill
someone, it's because I really hate them, or...I stand to lose
millions...I want immediate action...I'm not going to wait months
or years for her/him to croak." Alex agrees. But she points out,
"Imagine how someone that desperate might react to a slick lawyer
offering him a risk-free road out of his problems. A perfect murder
is worth waiting for." And, when the funeral is over, you look like
a martyr who has cared for your dying spouse for a long time.
TRUE EVIL is a fascinating novel. Greg Iles takes his time letting
the various plot lines neatly coalesce and offers a coherent
conclusion. The characters are perfectly cast in their roles, and
readers get to hate the bad guys and cheer for the good ones. The
medicine and science at the heart of the book are chillingly real.
Readers need to think about this and whether or not our society is
ready for the true evil that is out there in the world.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 23, 2011