Thursday, September 27, 2018

Book Review: The Quiet Game by Greg Iles


I am back with another book review! I have been sticking to my resolution of making reading a priority and I am surprised by the negligible effort it has taken. Now I realize how incredibly lame my 15 books a year target was and 50 (that earlier seemed so daunting) would actually be doable. Given my dismal start to the year, it would be nothing short of a miracle if I can catch up but I sure am going to try 😊 And since I've decided to keep up with reading, I will be more prudent in the books I review on the blog, winnowing down to those I deem worthy of discussion.

This book review marks my first tryst with the literary works of Greg Iles. This author has been recommended to me by my husband. And knowing that Stephen King endorsed the work of Greg Iles is good enough reason for me to not waste any more time!

Novelist Greg Iles was born in Germany, where his father ran the US Embassy Medical Clinic during the height of the Cold War. He spent his youth in Natchez, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1983. His first novel, Spandau Phoenix, a thriller about Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess, was published in 1992 and became a New York Times bestseller.

Mississippi has long been known for its prowess in prose. From Tennessee Williams to Eudora Welty, John Grisham to William Faulkner and now Greg Iles, the Magnolia State is home to a plethora of skilled writers.

The Quiet Game was first published in 1999 by Dutton in the United States. The novel introduces the main protagonist Penn Cage who goes on to feature in several more of Greg Iles books.

***Plot***

Set in the small town of Natchez, Mississippi, the novel begins on a sombre note with grieving widower Penn Cage trying to come to terms with the agonizing loss of his beloved wife Sarah. The prosecutor turned best-selling author returns to his hometown of Natchez for some much-needed solitude and to help lift the spirits of his four year old daughter Annie.

When Penn becomes privy to the fact that his father Dr Tom Cage, a model of rectitude, is being blackmailed over an unsavoury incident that took place in the past, he pulls out all the stops to put an end to it. In tracing the source of his father's disconcerting predicament, he unknowingly stirs up a 30 year old unsolved murder that took place in Natchez under mysterious circumstances. In reviving the controversial case, Penn more than ruffles a few feathers. The murder of black Korean War veteran Delano Payton had been masquerading as a race crime until then but new insights and unsubstantiated claims suggest otherwise with unexpectedly sinister implications. The more Penn tries to resist getting involved, the more he gets sucked in. Putting his own life and that of his family’s in jeopardy, the crusading lawyer campaigns for justice along with unlikely accomplice, hotshot publisher Caitlin Masters.

In the course of the investigation, Penn goes on the offensive and butts heads with Judge Leo Marston, who had been responsible for separating him from his high school sweetheart Olivia Marston and subsequently sought to destroy his father in an unfounded and rancorous malpractice suit. Stuck in the eye of a media storm, with politicians, the FBI and a homicidal former cop hot on his heels, Penn is in a race against time to nail the killers of Del Payton. But in a racially divided town where everyone is playing the “quiet game”, it is proving to be harder than he bargained for. And with witnesses turning up either dead or in grave danger, the evidence is steadily starting to slip away from his grasp. Penn has to confront his old demons and grapple with some unsettling truths before he can uncover his hometown's deepest darkest secret.

My thoughts....

Reading the work of an author for the first time, for me, is somewhat akin to making a new friend. It is novel, intriguing and feels like a wisp of fresh air.
 
The title of the novel is plot-driven and ideal. The first-person narration from the main protagonist's point of view that the author has adopted, makes for a more personalised reading experience and it doesn't take long to get into the swing of things. Not only does Greg Iles have an impressive vocabulary and a way with words but he also has a unique voice and command over the narrative which is the hallmark of a good writer. The Quiet Game has a writing style that is informal, fluid, and reasonably-paced. The plot is interesting enough to keep the reader hooked on from start to finish. I loved how the author ends every chapter in a way that urges you to continue on. The twists and turns (some of which I was able to predict by the way) makes it an absorbing read although the length of the novel could have been easily trimmed with some editing (just my two cents!). This novel which is hard to categorize, has a bit of everything - suspense, politics, scandal, history, tragedy, action, violence, courtroom drama, personal redemption and even some fleeting romance.

Race is a sensitive subject. Back in the day (probably even today), particularly in the South of the United States, the subject of race is relevant. The author has tackled issues of prejudice and class in the story with sensitivity and elan. The way Penn stirs up a hornet's nest with the issue of race at its crux and politics not far behind, makes for a galvanizing plot. For someone like me who is not the least bit politically inclined and who is not hugely knowledgeable about the civil rights movement of Mississippi, whatever I read, painted a cursory picture of the strife-torn South of the 1960s.

The author's love for his hometown comes through loud and clear when the landscapes of the quaint Southern city of Natchez comes alive with its historic antebellum mansions, Greek revival architecture, blooming crape myrtle and magnolia trees, sprawling cotton plantations, verdant gardens and the mighty Mississippi river. You can say that the city itself is one of the main characters of The Quiet Game and lends itself to the story quite well. The history, culture, traditions and the Southern lifestyle have been described with a clarity that benefits those of us who will probably never visit the city in our lifetime. The natural beauty and old world charm of Natchez coupled with its murky history and smouldering racial tension gives it a unique character.

Greg Iles ability to get into the skin of his characters and convey their emotions not only eloquently but also with unbridled honesty is commendable. I'd say most of the characters in the novel are likeable but there are those without any redeeming qualities whatsoever. The best part about the characters, for me, in this novel is how real they come across. The agreeable characters have the potential to be heroic but they can also exhibit a relatable cowardice when it comes to safeguarding personal interests. While their core values are organically good, when challenged, they don't hesitate to cross the line. But let's face it - flaws are important for a character to have and that is what makes them interesting and credible. A maelstrom of conflicting emotions threaten to skew an individual's moral compass to which even the most virtuous may be susceptible. While you champion the idealistic Penn Cage in his quest to uncover the truth and respectfully acknowledge the savior complex ingrained in his personality, you cannot ignore that he is without his vices. He believes in upholding the law but also doesn't lose sleep over breaking it to protect the people he holds dear. As a reader, you also feel a frustration towards him for allowing himself to be so obviously exploited by the woman he once loved. As much as you find the righteous doctor Tom Cage inspiring, you tend to be disappointed in him when he meekly gives in to his blackmailer's demands. As smart and gutsy as you find Caitlin Masters, you also find her shrewd and wonder if there are vested interests at play. You may be inclined to feel sympathetic towards the insouciant Olivia Marston given the circumstances of her life but end up getting detached from the character when she proves to be nothing more than a femme fatale. As a reader, you may not understand the thoughts and actions of some of the main characters but you inextricably feel compelled to root for them. Reading a novel which not only has a strong storyline but also provides a peek into human psychology is time well spent.

The Quiet Game is a novel that I would readily recommend. Readers of all ages would enjoy this book especially those who have a penchant for crime and thriller genres.

In the Penn Cage series, I finished Turning Angel (I thought it was average) and The Devil's Punchbowl (a good read). I've bypassed The Death Factory and currently neck-deep in the gripping Natchez Burning. I have the remainder of the trilogy lined up on my Kindle and I am eager to discover what Penn Cage has in store for him!


My rating for this book is



Cheers,
Megha

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