James Thane's Reviews > The Devil's Punchbowl

The Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Iles
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's review
Jul 16, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: suspense
Read in July, 2011

Former Houston prosecutor Penn Cage is now the disillusioned mayor of his home town, Natchez, Mississippi. Cage never failed at anything in his life until now, and he took the office promising to bridge the divisions in the town which is losing jobs along with its best and brightest young people who are moving away in search of better opportunities elsewhere. Penn hoped to put Natchez on the track to a better future by reinvigorating the public education system and encouraging white parents who have fled the public schools to return their children to the public schools so that black and white students would be educated together, thus building the base of a new and better city.

Sadly, the problem has proven to be much more difficult and intractable than Penn imagined and his one accomplishment has been to clear the way for a luxurious new gambling boat, the Magnolia Queen, to come to town. The boat has generated jobs and badly needed revenue for the ailing city. But then Tim Jessup, one of Penn's childhood friends who works aboard the Queen shows Penn evidence suggesting that the gambling aboard the boat is a cover for sinister and repellant activities.

Shortly thereafter, Jessup is murdered and Penn finds himself locked in mortal combat with two hardcore villains who are determined to protect the gambling boat's secrets and their own fortunes. They will stop at nothing to do so, including threatening Penn's daughter, mother and father to make him back off and surrender the evidence they believe Jessup has given to Penn.

In this middle of all of this, Penn's old lover, Caitlin Masters, returns to Natchez, complicating both the widowed Penn's life and the complex problems he now faces. Not surprisingly, Cage refuses to roll over and surrender to the evil that threatens to envelope his city. The result is a roller coaster ride, with lots of unexpected twists and turns. Iles is a master of the psychological suspense novel and The Devil's Punchbowl is an excellent example of his work.

A word of warning: This engrossing book is not for the faint of heart. It contains a considerable amount of very graphic violence directed both against human beings and animals.
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