The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 9, 2009

Book review: ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’ powerful, but not for weak stomachs


“The Devil’s Punchbowl”

By Greg Iles

(compact disc audiobook)

Penn Cage, a former Houston prosecutor and successful novelist, was elected mayor of Natchez, Miss., on an economic platform of promises to save the dying city and fix the school system. Like many cities, Natchez is heavily reliant on riverboat gambling to boost the local economy and has five gambling boats nearby, including the Magnolia Queen.

Tim Jessup, a former childhood friend who works as a dealer on the Magnolia Queen, shows Penn pictures that depict illegal activities including prostitution of underage girls and dog fighting, many taking place aboard and sponsored by the Magnolia Queen. Penn is late for the second meeting with Tim and Penn’s friend is murdered before he can give the mayor even more incriminating information regarding the activities of the Magnolia Queen.

Irish Riverboat casino manager Jonathan Sands and his sidekick, Seamus Quinn, believe that before Tim died, he gave Penn the incriminating evidence. Sands threatens to torture and kill Penn’s girlfriend, Caitlin, and Penn’s entire family if Penn doesn’t return the evidence he supposedly possesses. In order to protect his loved ones, Penn must come to a decision on whether to abandon his principles and ignore the illegal activities of the casino or continue his quest for the truth and to vindicate Tim’s claims of criminal activity at the casino.

Due to his distrust of and the corruption within the local police force, Penn assembles his own resourceful and powerful team of men to protect his loved ones. At a point in his investigation, Penn discovers that a high-powered Justice Department lawyer is protecting Sands for his cooperation in a sting. Penn and his team must stay ahead of the formidable Sands and Quinn, who appear to anticipate Penn’s every move.

“The Devil’s Punchbowl” is an intense and powerful thriller that keeps you in suspense with one plot twist after another, but it may not appeal to those with weak stomachs. The novel depicts some graphic descriptions of the sexual abuse of women and contains powerful images of and the torture that accompanies dog fighting. Dick Hill does a masterful job with the characters. The novel ended with a cliffhanger, so I am eagerly anticipating Greg Iles’ next Penn Cage thriller.

“Killer Summer”

By Ridley Pearson

(compact disc audiobook)

Walt Fleming, sheriff of Sun Valley, Idaho, is fishing with his nephew, Kevin, when he notices a car with what looks to be a person slumped inside being towed away from town. Walt and Kevin pursue the car and tow truck and the men inside abandon it and take off into the woods. In addition to discovering a dead courier in the car along with bottles of wine in a case chained to the front seat of the car, Walt has just prevented the theft of some rare wine purported to have been a gift to John Adams by Thomas Jefferson. Walt and his department will be providing security for the event where the wine will be auctioned off.

Some of the rich and famous have already arrived for the auction including Teddy Sumner, a movie producer, and Summer, his teenage daughter. Resentful of being forced to come along with her father, Summer devises a plot involving Kevin, who happens to work at the hotel where she and her father are staying. Summer and Kevin find themselves in danger when they board her father’s private Learjet and must hide when three criminals later follow them onboard.

When the teenagers go missing, Walt and a deputy coordinate a search team to track Kevin and Summer over rugged mountain terrain and dense forests to a crash site and an isolated mountain lodge.

“Killer Summer” is the third in the Walt Fleming series and can be read as a standalone novel. Phil Gigante lends his excellent narration to the action-packed book. “Killer Summer” contains psychological suspense, great characters and setting — all the elements for a highly entertaining book.

Phyllis Seesengood is the technical services librarian at Joplin Public Library.