Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Greg Iles--Mississippi Blood

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am such a fan of sense of place in novels, and of writers who can transport you to their particular corner of the world and make you feel it so strongly that you might have been born to it. 

GREG ILES is one of those authors, and it's a huge treat to have him here today to talk about the long-awaited final installment in his NATCHES BURNING trilogy, MISSISSIPPI BLOOD, out today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Here's what Publishers Weekly has to say--

“[The] terrific conclusion to his Natchez Burning trilogy is a sweeping story that remains intimate… Relentless pacing keeps the story churning… The trial scenes are among the most exciting ever written in the genre.”
   — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

And just to put our Q&A in the frame, here's a bit about MISSISSIPPI BLOOD.

The endgame is at hand for Penn Cage, his family, and the enemies bent on destroying them in this revelatory volume in the epic trilogy set in modern-day Natchez, Mississippi—Greg Iles’s epic tale of love and honor, hatred and revenge that explores how the sins of the past continue to haunt the present.

Shattered by grief and dreaming of vengeance, Penn Cage sees his family and his world collapsing around him. The woman he loves is gone, his principles have been irrevocably compromised, and his father, once a paragon of the community that Penn leads as mayor, is about to be tried for the murder of a former lover. Most terrifying of all, Dr. Cage seems bent on self-destruction. Despite Penn's experience as a prosecutor in major murder trials, his father has frozen him out of the trial preparations--preferring to risk dying in prison to revealing the truth of the crime to his son.

During forty years practicing medicine, Tom Cage made himself the most respected and beloved physician in Natchez, Mississippi. But this revered Southern figure has secrets known only to himself and a handful of others.  Among them, Tom has a second son, the product of an 1960s affair with his devoted African American nurse, Viola Turner.  It is Viola who has been murdered, and her bitter son--Penn's half-brother--who sets in motion the murder case against his father.  The resulting investigation exhumes dangerous ghosts from Mississippi's violent past. In some way that Penn cannot fathom, Viola Turner was a nexus point between his father and the Double Eagles, a savage splinter cell of the KKK. More troubling still, the long-buried secrets shared by Dr. Cage and the former Klansmen may hold the key to the most devastating assassinations of the 1960s. The surviving Double Eagles will stop at nothing to keep their past crimes buried, and with the help of some of the most influential men in the state, they seek to ensure that Dr. Cage either takes the fall for them, or takes his secrets to an early grave. 

Tom Cage's murder trial sets a terrible clock in motion, and unless Penn can pierce the veil of the past and exonerate his father, his family will be destroyed. Unable to trust anyone around him--not even his own mother--Penn joins forces with Serenity Butler, a famous young black author who has come to Natchez to write about his father's case. Together, Penn and Serenity--a former soldier--battle to crack the Double Eagles and discover the secret history of the Cage family and the South itself, a desperate move that risks the only thing they have left to gamble: their lives.

DEBS: In Mississippi Blood, you introduce a new character, Serenity Butler, why did you feel she was necessary to this book?

GREG: Penn Cage has always been more of an observer than an action-hero character. He has been forced to resort to violence on occasion, but it's not his basic nature. With the loss of his partner, he needed a new "other half" to replace her, and Serenity came into my mind fully formed.

DEBS: And even though she’s a writer when we meet her, she has a military background, what was the purpose of her having that experience?

GREG: A very large number of African American women serve in the military, and there are increasing numbers of black female writers reaching a wide audience today--some from Mississippi, as I am.  These two things suggested a character who would be more aggressive and confrontational than Penn when faced with the kind of threat posed by the Double Eagles--which is a KKK splinter cell. Serenity's combat experience gives her a good skill set and allows her to function in circumstances that would paralyze normal people.

DEBS: Did you find it hard introducing this new character into a story that had such an established group of main characters?  She takes on quite a role in this last book in the trilogy. What does Serenity symbolize in Mississippi Blood?

GREG: Since Serenity is originally from Mississippi herself, she slipped right into the complex fabric of Natchez, where that can be very difficult for people in real life, or even in a book. Anyone who lives in an insular small town knows how closed they can be to any newcomer, even after decades.

DEBS: Were there any real-life inspirations for Serenity’s character? Do you think we’ll see her again in Penn’s life?

GREG: I don't like to reveal the true inspirations for my characters, as a rule except for my own father inspiring Tom Cage.  As for seeing Serenity again, without spoilers, I'll just say that she and Penn made a deep connection, and she acted quite heroically to help his daughter.  She may well reappear someday soon.

DEBS: And here's more about Greg.

Greg Iles was born in Germany in 1960, where his father ran the US Embassy Medical Clinic during the height of the Cold War.  Iles spent his youth in Natchez, Mississippi, and graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1983.  While attending Ole Miss, Greg lived in the cabin where William Faulkner and his brothers listened to countless stories told by “Mammy Callie,” their beloved nanny, who had been born a slave.

Iles wrote his first novel in 1993, a thriller about Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess, which became the first of twelve New York Times bestsellers.  His novels have been made into films, translated into more than twenty languages, and published in more than thirty-five countries worldwide.  His new epic trilogy continues the story of Penn Cage, protagonist of The Quiet Game, Turning Angel, and New York Times #1 bestseller The Devil’s Punchbowl.

Iles is a member of the legendary lit-rock group “The Rock Bottom Remainders.”  Like bandmate Stephen King, Greg returned to the musical stage after recovering from his injuries, and joined the band for their final two shows in Los Angeles in 2012.  A nonfiction memoir by the band, titled Hard Listening, was published this past summer.  Hard Listening also contains a short story Greg wrote as an homage to King.

Iles lives in Natchez, Mississippi, with his wife and has two children, both of whom aspire to literary and film endeavors.


Greg is on book tour--happy launch day, Greg!--but will be checking in to answer questions and comments!



  1. Happy Book Birthday, Greg!

    Debs, I really liked the addition of the Serenity character to the storyline; she certainly fit right in, almost like she'd always been there. And there’s such a sense of place in all three of the books in this trilogy . . .
    I think I read “Mississippi Burning” in a day. It pulls the reader in from the very first page and it was simply too good to set aside . . . .

  2. Greg! I am such a fan! I wish I had taken a picture for you of my husband reading your previous book… He was absolutely riveting. And I am off to get him a new one… !

    When can we talk about the band? How did you all get together? Do you ever need back up singers? Asking for a friend.

  3. I just downloaded MISSISSIPPI BLOOD - I didn't realize the new book was out! (And this, readers, is why authors do book and blog tours.) I agree that sense of place is crucial, and Greg's series is one of the best examples of this. The events that happen and the characters that act upon them couldn't arise from anywhere else but the deep South - just as Judge Deborah Knott couldn't exist outside of North Carolina or Cork O'Conner away from northern Minnesota.

    I'll also note that anything looking at race relations is particularly timely today.

  4. I've read only the first Penn Cage book, and I loved it. This is a great reminder to get back to this series! Serenity is an interesting name, especially for a character who brings aggressiveness and confrontation.

  5. I've missed your series entirely Greg so I'll have to remedy that. My mother-in-law is from Hattiesburg and has many tales of growing up there. My father-in-law used to love to tease her about being from there. Supposedly a step down from Louisiana.

  6. Greg, I've always wanted to go to Natchez. My first editor, Susanne Kirk, retired there. I loved your video on your web page, showing the river and some of the settings.

    I want to know how you feel after finishing a trilogy that has consumed your life for, what, ten years? Free? Or a little bereft?

  7. Greg, I've never read any of your books; in fact, never really paid more than passing attention to your name, but suddenly I want to go out and start reading EVERYTHING.

    So many books, so little time.

    1. Susan, that is EXACTLY how I felt as I read this entry. I had the strongest sense of "How did I miss this?!?"

  8. Greg, I have only read the first book in this excellent trilogy, so I have some catching up to do. I do love books with a strong of place and books set in the southern US are interesting to me since I live in cold Ontario. Natchez is really brought to life for me. Happy book birthday!

  9. Happy launch day, Greg! Sounds like you've got a winning combo - deep sense of place, deep characters, and a timely theme.

    Now if only I could add about four hours to my day to do all the reading I'd like to do...


  10. Plus, your character names are so perfect. Do they just come to you? Or do you think think think?

  11. Mississippi Blood is featured on Audible today, narrated by Scott Brick, who is fabulous!

  12. Greg, I'm a HUGE fan of your work... You have a kind of courage in the stories you tell. And from what you say about your new character, Serenity, sounds like it's even moreso in Mississippi Blood - how did you research writing her?

    And got to ask, do you know Tom Franklin? Another Mississippi writer whose work I so admire.

  13. Happy pub day, Greg! Did you have the trilogy mapped out when you started "Natchez Burning" or did the story unfold for you, book by book? Have you always known how it would end?

  14. So delighted the trilogy is complete; i have been waiting along with all your other fans. Mississippi must have some writer dust in that Dixie black gold soil, to grow such wonderful authors. unfortunately for me, your tour stop is out of my driving range. I will be checking your You Tube posts, while listening to the Rock bottom Remainders. Thank you for joining us today.

  15. Welcome and Happy Book Birthday. I haven't read you before now, so I am off to Amazon. I love stories of the south, particularly when they span a length of time as yours seem to.

    Ann In Rochester

  16. I was reminded of the Iraq war after 9/11 when one of the American hostages was a single mother serving in the US military. She was an African American.

    Your book sounds interesting! Putting it on my TBR list.