Mississippi novelist Greg Iles’ bestselling Natchez Burning trilogy comes to a close with a gripping tale of revenge and dangerous family secrets.
In 2011, a nearly fatal car crash jump-started Iles’ desire to continue the story of Penn Cage. In Mississippi Blood, Penn, a former prosecutor turned mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, must face deep hatred and the ghosts of a painful, brutal Southern past before making a final attempt to save his family from complete destruction.
How does it feel to complete this 2,000-plus-page project? How did you celebrate?
I’m actually still decompressing from that ordeal. I’ve lived with this story for eight years, and you don’t shake something like that off easily. As far as celebration—first I slept, then my wife and I opened a bottle of champagne we’d been saving since before my accident.
You had a longstanding rule against writing a series. What prompted you to break that rule?
In spite of my rule, Penn kept pushing his way back into these stories about once every seven years. For an inquiry into race and family in the South, Penn was the perfect narrator, and his family the perfect vehicle.
Did you have an outline of the trilogy from the very beginning?
I did begin the trilogy with an outline, but early on this story began to turn in directions I did not expect. Tom Cage [Penn’s father] and his secret, in particular, took control of the narrative and steered the story to an unexpected conclusion.
What element of this series are you proudest of? Did you accomplish what you set out to do with this story?
I can’t reveal what I’m proudest of about the series without giving spoilers. But as for whether I accomplished my goal, it is with great relief that I can say I believe I did.
You are often referred to as “Southern author Greg Iles.” How much does “Southern-ness” influence your writing?
Like Pat Conroy and Rick Bragg, I am as Southern as they come. I’m descended from a Confederate cavalryman from Louisiana and an infantryman from South Carolina, but I am proud to say that I have outgrown a lot of the programming that cripples our region. I love the South, but we still have a very long way to go.
Your work defies genre pigeonholing. How did you make the jump from writing about the supernatural to a legal thriller?
I have jumped between genres because I always write about what interests me most. On one hand, I am lucky to be able to do that, but I’ve paid a price for that right. Had I written a series from the beginning, I’d probably be a lot wealthier, but I’d also be more confined in a rut.
What do you think about the possible TV adaptation of the Natchez trilogy? Any favorites for the leading roles?
This has been a long and educational road for me. I shouldn’t talk about casting preferences. I am a producer and do have input into those decisions, and speaking publicly about casting choices can close doors that might have led to surprisingly good outcomes.
Have readers seen the last of Penn Cage?
I can’t answer that without giving spoilers either, but I’m not quite finished with Natchez as a setting. And that certainly leaves the door open for certain things that readers would love to see.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of Mississippi Blood.