BookBrowse Reviews Turning Angel by Greg Iles

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Turning Angel

by Greg Iles

Turning Angel by Greg Iles
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2005, 512 pages
    Nov 2006, 672 pages

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The job of great fiction is to entertain, elucidate and educate while keeping readers nailed to their chairs; this does all of that brilliantly - PW

From the book jacket: Turning Angel marks the long-awaited return of Penn Cage, the lawyer hero of The Quiet Game, and introduces Drew Elliott, the highly respected doctor who saved Penn's life in a hiking accident when they were boys. As two of the most prominent citizens of Natchez, Drew and Penn sit on the school board of their alma mater, St. Stephen's Prep. When the nude body of a young female student is found near the Mississippi River, the entire community is shocked -- but no one more than Penn, who discovers that his best friend was entangled in a passionate relationship with the girl and may be accused of her murder.  Penn allows his sense of obligation to override his instinct and agrees to defend his friend. Yet before he can begin, both men are drawn into a dangerous web of blackmail and violence. Drew reacts like anything but an innocent man, and Penn finds himself doubting his friend's motives and searching for a path out of harm's way.

Comment: Coincidentally, Turning Angel explores a similar topic to Picoult's The Tenth Circle (reviewed above). According to his website, Iles has got quite a lot of flak for Turning Angel, which has proved more controversial than any of his other books.  One source of controversy lies in Iles's portrayal of the female victim as having drawn violence on herself by making bad decisions.  In defense of his book Iles says, "Any cop can tell you that some victims are at least partly to blame for the crimes that befall them. We all have a responsibility to use our common sense to protect ourselves, even high school boys and girls."

Another source of controversy is localized among the residents of the small city of Natchez, Mississippi (the setting for for all of Iles's Penn Cage novels). It seems that despite the fact that Iles goes out of his way to say that while the setting of his novels is real, the characters are not, the residents of Natchez (who were once happy to see their city immortalized) have turned figuring out who his characters really are into something of a bloodsport, with vicious rumors abounding after every book is published, particularly after Turning Angel which has as it's central theme the secret lives of high school students, and specifically the phenomenon of sexual affairs between older men and high school girls.

"Please enjoy Turning Angel for what it is, a heartfelt and rather shocked portrayal of a part of our culture that most adults know far too little about, and which we should do all we can to understand. The future is in the hands of the children in this novel, and others like them." - Greg Iles

Pro: "All this is lurid in the extreme and, in Iles's hands, entirely gripping, but there is more to Turning Angel than sex and scandal. Iles offers an insider's heartfelt picture of a Southern town that is dying because of lousy schools, a failing economy and racial tensions" - The Washington Post.

"Iles has become an A-list thriller writer over the years, and anything with his name on it can be counted on to draw a crowd. Call this one a well-written misfire." - Booklist.

What do you think?  Read the first chapter for yourself, and if you're not well and truly hooked, move on!

This review was originally published in January 2006, and has been updated for the November 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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