Featured Review: ‘Southern Man’ by Greg Iles


Greg Iles, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Natchez Burning trilogy and Cemetery Road, has once again delivered a captivating and timely novel with Southern Man, his highly anticipated seventh Penn Cage novel, taking readers on a riveting journey through a tumultuous landscape of anarchy, tragedy, and the unwavering fight for love.

The story picks up fifteen years after the events of the Natchez Burning trilogy, thrusting Penn Cage into a lonely existence, burdened by a mortal secret that isolates him from the world. However, Penn’s solitude is shattered when a violent and deadly shooting at a Mississippi rap festival nearly claims the life of his daughter, Annie. In the aftermath of the killings, the ensuing chaos, fueled by racial tensions, fills the streets as Natchez and Bienville grapple with hard truths and even more uncertainty. All signs point to a perilous race war, setting the stage for a gripping and raw narrative that explores the dark undercurrents of society.

Keeping the story moving, Iles shifts the focus to Penn, who investigates the burnings of multiple pre-Civil War homes, while also introducing Robert E. Lee White, or “Bobby,” a war hero turned independent presidential candidate. White, who’s nicknamed “the Tik-Tok Man,” hails from the South and quickly establishes himself as a viable third-party candidate for the White House, ala Ross Perot, but with an even livelier base of supporters. Knowing his odds of winning a national election are less than optimal, Bobby—whose campaign is being funded almost entirely by a Mississippi billionaire—launches a daring plan that Cage suspects is designed with an ulterior motive in mind. To oppose Bobby and shed light on the truth behind the sham political campaign, Penn teams up with his daughter, now a civil rights attorney and a former Black Panther who spent the bulk of his life in prison. But with violence at an all-time height and a growing racial divide that’s strained the very fabric of America to its core, things are primed for a second Civil War, and one wrong step could have disastrous implications—the kind the United States might never recover from.

Always unafraid to take on subject matters that other writers may deem too controversial, Greg Iles again tackles a number of uncomfortable but important themes and realities that have ultimately led to the divisiveness we see in our country today. His storytelling, which is fearless and unflinching, is second to none. The most comparable writer still working today might be James Lee Burke, who has also shown the courage and willingness to write about topics that need to be discussed, even if it limits book sales. Don Winslow would be another. And let’s be real here—there are going to be a lot of people who might not appreciate Iles’s take on things or care to read about such matters when seeking out fictional for entertainment. That’s fine, and to each their own, but Iles does handle things with class, grace, and a laser-like precision that cuts right through the bull-you-know-what and takes on today’s issues without any hesitation whatsoever. But even though the plot is wrapped in politically charged topics, Iles does a fantastic job breaking from things long enough to humanize his characters and even finds the screen time to allow readers to reconnect with Penn Cage, who first appeared in the 1999 novel The Quiet Game. If you’re a longtime fan of the series, rest assured that Iles does Penn justice. He certainly didn’t just bring him back and toss him into the fire because he couldn’t conjure up another protagionist to lead the charge here. No, Penn’s return is perfectly handled, and seeing him in the present day, struggling to cope and find purpose, is a real treat for fans who’ve been with him from the start. Likewise, Annie, Penn’s daughter, steals every scene she’s in. It’s nice that Iles, while taking on bigger issues across the board, still puts an emphasis on the relationship between Annie and Penn, who’s basically lost everyone else around him for one reason or another.

Coming in at a whopping nine-hundred-plus pages, Greg Iles catapults his beloved Penn Cage series into the present moment where he explores the United States today, delivering a blistering masterpiece that is both relevant and impactful, making Southern Man a must-read for fans of political thrillers and those seeking a compelling exploration of the complexities of contemporary America.

Book Details

Author: Greg Iles
Series: Penn Cage #7
Pages: 976 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 0 0062824694
Publisher: William Morrow
Release Date: May 28, 2024



Praised as “One of the hardest working, most thoughtful, and fairest reviewers out there” by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Scottoline, Ryan Steck has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and is building a growing community on Twitch. His debut thriller, FIELDS OF FIRE, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Jack Carr says “will leave you speechless and begging for more,” is now available. His second novel, LETHAL RANGE, is also in bookstores, and his third book, OUT FOR BLOOD, comes out on June 4th. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. To interact with other readers and talk about your favorite books and authors, join The Real Book Spy’s Discord server.


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