The Bone Tree is a novel written by author Greg Iles. Originally published in hardcover in April 2015, the novel was published in a mass market paperback edition in March 2016 (the edition in which I read this novel). The Bone Tree is a sequel to Iles' 2014 novel, Natchez Burning, the first novel in the Natchez Burning trilogy.
Like the first novel, The Bone Tree covers a wide variety of genres and sub-genres, including mystery, thriller, suspense, crime, and family and local history. The Natchez Burning trilogy centers on Mayor Penn Cage (the star of several Iles novels and currently the mayor of Natchez, Mississippi). Cage has been trying to discover the truth about his father who is accused of murdering a former employee who was also once his lover. The Bone Tree centers on a legendary killing site that may hold the answers to many mysteries and also the remains of uncounted victims of savage murder.
As The Bone Tree opens, Penn is caught in a terrible and dark maelstrom. He and his fiance, Caitlin Masters (the editor-in-chief of the Natchez Examiner newspaper), have just escaped certain death at the hands of one of the most evil and vile men in the South, Brody Royal, the architect of some of the most notorious racially motivated murders of the 1960s. Penn's troubles all started when he tried to clear his elderly father, Dr. Tom Cage, of murder charges. Tom was accused of allegedly being involved in the “mercy killing” of Viola Turner, the African-American woman who was once one of Dr. Cage's nurses and who was also his lover in the 1960s.
Now, the incidents depicted in Natchez Burning have started a war between Penn Cage and a deadly offshoot of the KKK, the Double Eagles. The ostensibly leader, Forrest Knox, the son of the Eagles' founder (the late Frank Knox), is a high-ranking officer in the Louisiana State Police, and is poised to take over the LSP. Tom Cage's alleged crimes and his status as a wanted fugitive have put Knox's plans in jeopardy, and have also forced a spotlight on America's most shameful history. From New Orleans, to Natchez, to Vidalia and Ferriday, Louisiana, the FBI is digging into the hidden figures and secrets of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Bay of Pigs, the Mafia, the unsolved murder of Black men involved in the Civil Rights movement, and more.
It all leads to the Bone Tree, a legendary killing site that holds things and people forgotten and not-so-forgotten. And some players in this fiery drama won't survive this round.
THE LOWDOWN: I wrote in my review of Natchez Burning that it was probably the best 862-page novel that I had ever read. The Bone Tree is probably the best almost-900-pages-long novel that I have read to date and may ever read.
There is a blurb on the paperback cover of Natchez Burning. It contains two lines of praise from bestselling author Stephen King. They declare that Natchez Burning is “Extraordinarily entertaining and fiendishly suspenseful. I defy you to start it and find a way to put it down.” One can say the same for The Bone Tree.
In fact, the back cover of The Bone Tree has this quote from a “starred review” by Booklist: “Absolutely compelling... A beautifully constructed story [and] some extremely fine writing.” That's all true. The Bone Tree is the work of a natural born novelist who also works really hard at what he does. Greg Iles has the prose-writing talent of an artist, and he tells a complicated story with the skill of a superior story craftsman. Greg Iles is a storytelling technician building prose ziggurats on foundations that can support his monsters-of-rock narratives
But at the end of the day, dear reader, you are wondering if The Bone Tree is a good read for you. To that I'll say “Yeah!” like rapper-producer Li'l Jon says it.
The Bone Tree, like its predecessor, Natchez Burning is our dark, racist, Jim Crow, segregation, church-bombing, political assassination, and black man-killing past turned into the proverbial must-read, potboiler novel. The Bone Tree is the second Greg Iles, Southern-fried humdinger that John Grisham wishes he could write.
I READS YOU RECOMMENDS: Readers looking for explosive genre fiction that reads like literary fiction will want to climb The Bone Tree.