In the misty hills of modern american literature there is a small and secret place just beyond 'thrillers', close to 'crime dramas', right before the dreaded 'airplane book' fields, fattened and kept alive by a steady flow and love of pulp detective novels. In that small place the authors are well-read, versed in Faulkner and Hemingway, but still devoted disciples of gritty detective fiction and dime-novels packed with twists, mysterious women, and dastardly men. Literate noir. Greg Iles' 'The Bone Tree' lives in this small hidden area.
While steeped in Louisianian Gothic excess and depravity, the book's very honest story shines through. Peppered with violence (there is a lot of sexualized cruelty at play here) and bolstered with interesting switches in narrative form (from first person views in one character's chapters, to more traditional removed views in certain others, flashbacks, jumping time frames, so on and so forth...) Iles' novel is enchanting and at times even beautiful.
A corrupt police force, decades old Civil Rights-era murders, assassination conspiracies, secret KKK cabals, fierce and devoted reporters, back-room deals with the viciously rich, crime families, rouge FBI agents, and bloody revenge... somehow the book keeps from veering too far into insanity, and maintains a dour reality. In this way, Elmore Leonard came to mind. That sorta broken law-man with an old pistol full of truth, justice, and shame flickered in my mind as I read the character of Mayor Penn Cage. The snarling Knox family, with their KKK ties and country/bayou meets mafia leanings brought to mind the Crowder clan from Elmore Leonard's 'Raylan', as well as the old forgotten gem 'At Close Range' (a film starring both Christopher Walken and Sean Penn) with the same vicious reality that both those works stress.
I was genuinely uncomfortable with some of the racial tones in the book, but I feel like that was necessary. To understand the hate, the pure unadulterated hate, that Snake and Forrest Knox lived within, the crass betrayal and awful inhumanity of Ozan, or the terror and resentment in Tom Cage, we needed to be made uncomfortable. We needed to hear about the gargantuan human rights atrocities committed by the KKK offshoot group, 'The Double Eagles', and more importantly, we had to be disgusted.
At just a hair over 800 pages, this book brings a lot of baggage. It never overstays its welcome, to be fair, but the size of the story (especially keeping in mind that this is only book to of a three part arc) is impressive in its vastness. My favorite character from the first is absent from this story, and with him one of the more interesting subplots. Still though, the book supplies faces and voices from the first book, and even fills out the space a bit with a few new hitters and fighters.
It should also be noted that within the first 30-40 pages of the book, many of the first book's defining moments are detailed and explained in a way that not only doesn't feel hackneyed or forced, but actually feels natural and logical. So while it isn't actually mandatory that you read the first book, it DOES give more thorough illumination to the story and the characters at play.
This is an interesting read, and easily one of the more impressive new novels from a place like Harper Collins I have read in a while.
Charlie Jack Joseph Kruger
The Bone Tree will be released in Hardcover on April 21st, 2015. You may pre-order a copy at Last Word Books, or your friendly neighborhood independent bookseller.