"After my book The Devil's Punchbowl went to #1, it was like: When your dreams come true, you need to start worrying," best-selling author Greg Iles said by phone from Natchez. But Iles didn't start worrying. He got cracking: "I thought, Okay, now I can do what I really want to do. I'm going to write the next book the way it needs to be written. I'm not going to pull a single punch. I'm going to let the chips fall where they may."
The book that Iles needed to write is here: Natchez Burning (William Morrow), an enormous page-turner of a thriller set in and around the town of the title and centering on lead character Penn Cage and his physician father, Tom. The crimes at the heart of this highly skilled, 800-page novel (the first in an epic-size trilogy) are a very dark, racially charged record of the Deep South as it was in the 1960s and as it sometimes still is.
As it is, Iles said he's "as fully recovered as you can be when you sit in a chair for three years, which is what I've done, because I've been writing all that time. Other than that, I get around good. But this book tour is going to be a test."
Iles was referring not only to his signing schedule in the coming weeks (including in Memphis on May 1st), but to his recovery from the car accident that came close to killing him. In 2011, he pulled his car onto Highway 61 and an oncoming truck slammed into his driver's-side door. Eight days later, Iles woke up from a coma, without part of his right leg.
The writer recently woke to far better news, however — a tweet from a fan: "Best thriller in years Natchez Burning by Greg Iles." The fan was author Ken Follett, and that tweet was unsolicited, Iles said. Then he added: "The book is out there. People are responding to it! And, man, that's all you can ask for as a writer."
Greg Iles signing "Natchez Burning," at the Booksellers at Laurelwood, Thursday, May 1st, 6-7 p.m.