Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

Turning Angel, by Greg Iles (abridged audio)

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Greg Iles is the master of the multi-layered plot set in small Mississippi towns. Incredibly enough, though, he got started as a writer with two World War II novels, then launched into those small town mysteries with deep social commentary. He’s even ventured into emerging technology with The Footprints of God.

Penn Cage, hero of The Quiet Game, makes a successful return in Turning Angel. Penn (as narrated by the gifted Dick Hill in this audio book presentation) is a middle-aged attorney with a young daughter. He’s a widower of several years now, and his relationship with Caitlin, the daughter of a newspaper magnate who loves reporting as much as she loves Penn and his daughter, isn’t faring well.

Drew Elliott is a medical doctor in Natchez, Mississippi, and he’s one of Penn’s best friends. When they were kids, Drew saved Penn from drowning, risking his own life to get Penn out of the water.

The book opens up with Drew and Penn in a school board meeting when the body of seventeen-year-old Kate Townsend is discovered. She’s been raped and murdered, and her half-clad body lies on the bank of the local river.

Penn soon finds out that Drew was romantically involved with Kate, who was once a caregiver for Drew while he was recuperating from an injury. Still reeling from that, Penn also discovers that Drew’s marriage is a sham and that his wife has a severe drug problem. Digging into the investigation to save his friend, Penn quickly finds out that Kate Townsend, valedictorian, wasn’t as squeaky clean as everyone in town thought. As soon as the potential of a sex scandal spreads throughout the community, Drew – and Penn’s – friends quickly turn on them. Getting booted off the school board is the least of their worries.

Shad Johnson, the local district attorney, is black and motivated to run for mayor of the city. The current mayor has been diagnosed with cancer and is about to step down. Johnson makes a deal with Sheriff Billy Bird to make Drew Elliott’s murder trial his steppingstone into office.

Despite the overwhelming evidence against Drew, Penn believes in his friend’s innocence. At least in the innocence Drew has in Kate Townsend’s murder. The relationship the two had still catches Penn off-stride and he struggles with it.

Before Penn knows it, he’s moving into danger and risking everything he has – including his family. When Sheriff’s Deputy Cross tells about the surveillance he’s had on the local drug trade and that Kate Townsend was involved, Penn’s investigation takes on a whole new slant. But Cross’s death also makes it plain that danger is all around, waiting to strike out of the shadows.

Iles paints an accurate and detailed picture of small town life, including the racial tensions between blacks and whites, between the slow death of small towns and the lure of big towns that leach the young college graduates away to brighter horizons. Iles doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to the sexual nature of the novel either. The sexual aggressiveness is natural, though, and never feels gratuitous or slipped in for shock value. The things he’s writing about in Turning Angel fill newspaper headlines and Court TV episodes these days.

Dick Hill reads the novel with a Southern flavored accent that sounds legitimate, but Hill is an awesome reader and can do anything he puts his mind to. His reading of this material is especially touching because it’s in first-person narrative and sounds like Penn has just dropped in to bring you up to date on what’s going on in his life.

Penn’s journey through the seamier side of his hometown rips away his innocence. He also gets sucked into the political jockeying that goes on inside the town and threatens to tear it to pieces. It’s intriguing to see how Iles piles each pressure point onto the last, shoving the whole situation to the point of no return.

The action sequences explode during the audio presentation, and the suspense ratchets up. But it’s the moral complexity that Iles presents that tends to stay with the reader/listener. Not just over the black and white issues, or the quick way fair weather friends abandon someone who isn’t as bulletproof as they would like, but the distinction of the roles between the adults and emerging adults moving out of high school into the main world. Iles handles that transition period in Turning Angel in a manner that isn’t just there for shock value, but also to make his audience think and consider.

But even for readers/listeners not looking for the social commentary that’s so well blended into the story, the mystery is solid and will keep the audience guessing till the last revelation drops into place. Turning Angel is a great novel and mystery with a character that audiences can and will cheer on.


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