The Bone Tree is the second novel in a trilogy by Greg Iles that involves the investigative work of a southern lawyer, Penn Cage. Taking up the story from Iles’s Natchez Burning, Penn and the publisher of the Natchez Examiner, Caitlin Masters, continue their work investigating the homegrown terrorist activities of local millionaire and power broker Brody Royal. Penn has a deeply personal stake because his father Dr. Cage has been the target of attempted murder by assassins instigated by Royal, the supposed head of a secret southern terrorist group. Caitlin is seeking a second Pulitzer Prize for her work during recent years exposing the local and national political activity of this group that is part of the still active KKK.
Penn, with the help of FBI Special Agent John Kaiser investigate the current criminal behavior of The Double Eagles, the selective KKK group including wealthy and politically connected Mississippi men. Caitlin explores the history of the group, gathering information and writing stories about a geographical focal point for their terrorist activity called “the bone tree.”
Penn discovers that a man named Forrest Knox, Double Eagle member and head of Mississippi’s Criminal Investigation Bureau, may be the real leader of the secret KKK group who uses his office to intimidate and cover up a history of civil rights violations. Caitlin discovers that a link to these violations may be stories spanning decades of evil deeds committed at a great cypress tree in the wilds of the Mississippi Lusahatcha Swamp. Tales of Pre-Columbian Natchez Indians who considered the tree to be connected to the spirit world, atrocities committed by southern troops against fleeing Yankees during the Civil War, the hunting and torture of African Americans by slave hunters, and murders related to civil rights activities in more recent history emerge as Caitlin follows leads in her stories.
The complicated plot involves many details of history and character interaction that fill every page of the lengthy (802 pages) novel. Greg Iles’s writing in The Bone Tree reminds me of the work of EdwardRutherfurd’s novel, Paris (2013), in terms of length, historical detail, scope, and writing style. With both writers, the novels are meant to be read carefully with attention to detail. Greg Iles makes the interesting case that the most evil deeds are atavistic in nature with people going to great lengths to hide their persistent inborn aggression from the eyes of men but not the perception of God. I am looking forward to reading the third volume of the trilogy.