Book Talk: Iles — ‘Cemetery Road’

Buck Ferris died because he found an Indian artifact that may have been thousands of years old. The important archaeological find takes place in Bienville, a little city of no consequence located along the Mississippi River. And, if it becomes known that the area was once inhabited by a Native American group, the Chinese paper pulp mill that is scheduled to locate there may be in danger of being cancelled.


“Cemetery Road” (2017, 587 pages) by Greg Iles begins with an explanation of why Buck gets his head bashed in and is dumped into The Big Muddy. The paper mill will bring a new interstate connection to the river-bluff city and generate a billion dollars in local revenue. A member of the powerful Poker Club, a clandestine group of good ol’ boys who are backing the Chinese enterprise says, “A billion dollars (in Mississippi)…. That’s like ten billion in the real world.” Having spent an unfortunately unforgettable week in northern Mississippi about 30 years ago, I completely understand that point.


Marshall McEwan, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and native of Bienville, returns home from Washington, D.C. to help his mother with his father’s ill health. But his father, suffering from a degenerative disease and advanced alcoholism, continues to put in his time at the town’s failing newspaper. And Marshall, who is constantly reminded of his brother’s downing death when the two boys engaged in a swimming race across the river, not only suffers from survivor’s guilt but also takes the extremely unpopular stance that the mystery of Buck’s death must be investigated, even if it postpones or even prevents the construction of the paper mill.


Marshall’s attempt to keep the newspaper running is hampered by his father’s attitude that he is to blame for his brother’s death, his brother having been a local football hero and “the one with a future.” As well as living with that guilt, Marshall faces a current personal dilemma. He has fallen deeply in love and faces the problem of having to make a choice between Jet Talal, the girl he left behind and who has reemerged as the love of his life, and maintaining his friendship with Paul Matheson, the man who saved his life when they were both in Iraq. Jet and Paul are now married, Paul is the son of a local tycoon who has great power within the Poker Club, and Paul suffers from severe bouts of PTSD.


Of course, to complicate things even more, Marshall is determined to solve the murder of Buck Ferris, who was practically a surrogate father to him when his biological father was unable to overcome the loss of the favored son. This puts Marshall in direct conflict with the Poker Club, and the outcome could be his demise.


The plot is filled with turns and twists as Marshall must overcome the ghosts of his past in Bienville, survive the enmity of the community, save the newspaper, and finally do what he knows to be right, but devastatingly unpopular.


If you enjoy Southern authors, as I do, you’ll find yourself immersed in “Cemetery Road” and everything else that Mr. Iles writes.


Enjoy.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at j_glynn@att.net.