Natchez Burning: A Novel by Greg Iles
A searing tale of racial hatreds and redemption in the modern South, courtesy of Southern storyteller extraordinaire Iles (The Devil’s Punchbowl, 2009, etc.).
Natchez didn’t burn in the Civil War, having surrendered to the Yankees while its neighbors endured scarifying sieges. It burns in Iles’ pages, though, since so many of the issues sounded a century and a half ago have yet to be resolved. Some of Natchez’s more retrograde residents find it difficult to wrap their heads around the idea that men and women of different races might want to spend time together, occasioning, in the opening episode, a “Guadalcanal barbecue,” as one virulent separate-but-unequal proponent puts it. The Double Eagles, an even more violent offshoot of the KKK, has been spreading its murderous idea of justice through the neighborhood for a long time, a fact driven home for attorney/politico Penn Cage when the allegation rises that his own father is somehow implicated in the dark events of 1964—and, as Iles’ slowly unfolding story makes clear, not just of that long-ago time, but in the whispered, hidden things that followed. As Penn investigates, drawing heat, he runs into plenty of tough customers, some with badges, some with swastikas, as well as the uncomfortable fact that his heroic father may indeed have feet of clay. Iles, a longtime resident of Natchez, knows his corner of Mississippi as well as Faulkner and Welty knew theirs, and he sounds true notes that may not be especially meaningful for outsiders—for one thing, that there’s a profound difference between a Creole and a Cajun, and for another, that anyone whose first three names are Nathan Bedford Forrest may not be entirely trustworthy when looking into hate crimes. His story is long in the telling (and with at least two more volumes coming along to complete it), but a patient reader will find that the pages scoot right along without missing a beat.
Iles is a master of regional literature, though he’s dealing with universals here, one being our endless thirst to right wrongs. A memorable, harrowing tale.
Otherwise Engaged by Amanda Quick
When Victorian world traveler Amity Doncaster meets an injured Benedict Stanbridge in a dark alley on a small Caribbean island, she saves his life and falls in love with him, leading them both into peril.
When Benedict, an engineer, is unwittingly caught up in an international intrigue that nearly costs him his life, he's saved by Amity, an intrepid travel-guide writer. Arriving back in London weeks after her, he learns that she has been attacked by a notorious serial killer, but due to her quick thinking and a clever secret weapon, she has survived. Determined to catch the killer, Benedict and Amity offer their help to the Scotland Yard investigator on the case, piecing together clues that link Amity’s assault to the work Benedict was doing on behalf of the crown that led to his attack. But even as they close in on the killer, they realize there's someone behind the scenes who may be even more dangerous. And as Benedict and Amity chase the culprit with a tight circle of friends, their courtship is marred by confusion and misunderstanding. Quick (aka Jayne Ann Krentz) moves away from paranormal elements in this historical romantic suspense novel, but she maintains her stellar plotting, exquisite dialogue and impeccable characterization. Benedict and Amity are a perfect pair, but their path to romantic bliss is hindered by physical danger and a charming uncertainty on both sides.
Sexy romance and intriguing mystery combine for a wholly satisfying and entertaining read.
Players First: Coaching from the Inside Out by John Calipari and Michael Sokolove
With the assistance of Sokolove (Drama High: The Incredible True Story of a Brilliant Teacher, a Struggling Town, and the Magic of Theater, 2013, etc.), University of Kentucky basketball coach Calipari (Bounce Back, 2009, etc.) lays out his coaching philosophy as it applies to his current position as head of college basketball’s most storied program.
As it becomes increasingly common for basketball players to join the NBA if not straight out of high school, then after only a year or two of college, coaches at elite universities, under pressure to sign top prospects and make deep runs in the NCAA tournament, are facing new challenges. Landing in Kentucky in 2009 after making the Final Four as head coach at the University of Massachusetts and the University of Memphis, and briefly coaching the NBA’s New Jersey Nets, Calipari has found success with an NCAA championship in 2012 and with 17 of his Kentucky players drafted by the NBA, including No. 1 overall picks John Wall and Anthony Davis. At the forefront of the author’s narrative is the problem of having to compete under the microscope that is Kentucky basketball with a virtually new team every year. The coach is not concerned here with X’s and O’s but with helping his players succeed, as a team and individually, both on and off the court. Much of this “players first” philosophy comes across as obvious common sense, though the frequent discussion of specific players will be of interest to followers of the team. Where Calipari, known throughout his career as outspoken and whose teams have been cited for NCAA violations, really gains steam is in his discussion of proposed reforms to the embattled organization, which has come under increasing criticism over its handling of the student athletes who bring billions of dollars in revenue to the NCAA and its schools.
No backboard-shattering revelations but a candid look at what it takes to remain at the top of the college basketball heap.