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on 4 January 2013
Greg Iles is a rare breed of author who can maintain the suspense throughout this book. His Characters maybe fictitious but he brings them to life within actual places. I found it difficult to this book down including the others I have read. If I have a criticism it is the endings are a bit flat and a bit of an anti climax. If you like thrillers read this book.
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on 2 February 2011
I've had my problems with Greg Iles' books in the past, but one thing I can always say about them is that they're enormously readable and will keep you gripped from beginning to end. Often it's only afterwards that I have an issue with the book as I reflect on what I read. This usually happens in one of his Penn Cage books, as I find the character to be annoyingly self-righteous at times. I have to admit, though, that the guy can write a thriller. The same can be said for Iles' latest Cage book, The Devil's Punchbowl. It's a long read that kept me turning the pages, yet afterward I had a faint distaste in my mouth, like a curry sauce that tastes good going down but has a burning, lingering aftertaste.

Penn Cage became mayor of Natchez, Mississippi in order to save the town from becoming the hive of scum and villainy that it was slowly turning into. Cage hasn't been able to do what he wanted, however, and is starting to feel like he should just give it all up. One of his accomplishments was bringing a fourth riverboat casinos to Natchez, the Magnolia Queen. But there's a sinister secret behind the Queen and its manager, Jonathan Sands. An old friend brings Penn evidence of horrible atrocities going on behind the scenes: prostitution, dog-fighting, and many other vices. Penn can't go to the police, as he has no idea who is on his side in this seamy, corruption-filled city. All he knows is that his family is in danger, and he has to protect them as well as bring an end to all of the depravity.

Once again, Penn Cage is at his self-righteous best in The Devil's Punchbowl, as he spends pages and pages agonizing over either his guilt at what his inaction has allowed to happen or his determination to not let Sands get away with what he is doing. Sands has him trapped with threats to his family and friends, so it's a good thing that Cage happens to know some people high up in the personal security and Special Forces hierarchy! It's also quite the coincidence that the pilot for the powerful businessman that Cage is supposed to be wooing just happens to be an ex-military guy who was in one of Iles' previous books. Isn't it perfectly nice that the pilot happens to be good friends with a former Army sniper who was in Iraq and now works for law enforcement elsewhere in Mississippi?

Yes, it all does sound a bit convenient, and it's almost funny watching all of the cloak and dagger situations unfold, with secure radios, satellite phones, safehouses, the anxiety of trying to find a place in town that Sands doesn't have bugged, and all of that. It's a good thing that Cage's friend went to him for help and not somebody else. If he had, the story would have ended quite quickly with Sands' threats, as nobody else would be equipped to handle the situation.

The over the top aspect of the book extends to Sands and his security chief, Seamus Quinn. Both men are so evil that I'm surprised they don't have Snidely Whiplash moustaches (maybe they do, but I don't remember Iles describing them that way). The casual brutality that Quinn exhibits is supposed to turn the reader off from the character, but it sometimes just made me laugh because of how excessive it was.

That being said, The Devil's Punchbowl is not for the squeamish. Yes, some of the violence is almost comic-book in its intensity. Other times, however, it's just presented in a matter of fact fashion that can turn the stomach of somebody not ready for it. This typically happens in a dog-fighting scene.

Despite all of that, I was held riveted throughout the book, hardly able to put it down. Iles' prose is excellent, as always, with different styles from chapter to chapter. The book is told both in first person by Cage himself (which has the unfortunate side effect of heightening his self-righteousness, but you can't have everything) as well as various third person chapters with various other characters. For some reason I can't fathom, the third person chapters are printed in italics, which I guess makes them distinctive if you're just opening the book to a random page and does emphasize the difference between the two styles. Also, the story is told in present tense, which does add to the immediacy of the story.

Ultimately, The Devil's Punchbowl is a book that you will devour quickly if you're a fan of the "bloody knife" genre, but you may find yourself looking back on it and thinking "I don't like any of these characters." It's not a problem you'll have during the read, however, and you will enjoy it. Just try not to think about it afterward, and you'll be fine.

Originally published on Curled Up With a Good Book © David Roy, 2010
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VINE VOICEon 7 July 2014
Set amidst the miasmal melting pot of small town Mississippi, Iles' third Penn Cage thriller is a pretty satisfying ride. Cage is now mayor of Natchez and with it comes the responsibility of pleasing everybody he grew up with as well as satiating all of the other residents too; a tough job that's made tougher with the arrival of a bunch of gangsters who are up to no good on one of the city's casino steamboats. Cage is informed of various nefarious activities going on both aboard this ship and amongst a reclusive nook of the Mississippi known as The Devil's Punchbowl; drugs, prostitution, rape and vicious dog fighting are just some of the crimes being reported. But Cage has to step lightly, as the closer he gets to unravelling the mystery the more he begins to see that the spiderwebs of corruptions have worked their way up above even his role as Mayor.

The Devil's Punchbowl delivers everything you'd want from a great thriller; a likeable and believable bunch of good guys yet also a well portrayed bunch of thugs to dislike. It has enough violence and gore for the biggest of thrill seekers yet the book has so much more to offer than just gross-out moments. Iles has produced a well thought out and believable enough thriller which is doused in gothic atmosphere from the get-go. A thriller whose writing demands to be taken seriously - Iles has a lot to offer.
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on 24 May 2011
I'm a huge fan of Greg Iles and this is the book that started it all off for me. I've subsequently converted my wife, sister in law and brother in law to greg Iles fans with this very book.

I've now read all three Pen Cage books and this is still my favourite, best of all its written in such a way that you can read them in any order including back to front without spoiling any of the books or their plots which is no mean feat in such big books!

Right from the opening chapter this book had me and the others hooked, its initial chapters are written like cliff hanger where you turn the page and the subject has changed and you can't wait to get back to teach character to find out whats happened.

There are some pretty horrific and violent content in this book which I thing makes it more real as these criminals are ruthless, violent and corrupt and would have no sympathy or remorse?

Pen Cage is a bit of stereotypical all american good guy but don't let that put you off its not too OTT as in some books
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 19 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Greg Iles was an unknown entity to me prior to reading this book so I cannot compare it to his previous works, however if they are anywhere near the quality of this tale, then I am in for a treat when I do read them.

The story is set in the town of Natchez, Mississippi and follows the harrowing experiences of Mayor Penn Cage (and others) after discovering the level of clandestine corruption that has hit town since the arrival of the casino consortium. His subsequent dealings with the perpetrators leads him to far greater discoveries of crime on an international scale, which puts himself and those around him in mortal danger.

I do not want to give away too much of the plot to prospective purchasers, but if you are in any way squeamish or overly 'pc' then the graphic descriptions of the violence, criminal sexual scenes and animal cruelty may not be for you. The twists and turns can be a bit OTT at times and yes its content is dark but then so is anything to do with Lucifer.

It's a long yarn but written in a gripping style that would make it an ideal holiday read.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the first book I've read by Iles, and, based on this one, I'll probably be reading more.

The novel is set in the town of Natchez, a seemingly-innocent town suffering a bit of a downturn since the oil industry declined in the area. But, when Mayor Penn Cage meets an old school friend, he learns of a shocking criminal underworld, based around the floating casino moored on the banks of the Mississpi.

At first, it seems it's likely the casino is simply fiddling the town out of tax revenues by "creative accounting", but it turns out to be a whole world worse than that - Cage is caught in a web of illegal gambling, dog fighting, prostitution and, eventually, murder.

A well-narrated story, with well-developed characters, and particularly gripping in the latter parts of the book, but a good read all the way.

Do be warned, though, some of the imagery (dog fighting and more) is quite graphic, so you might not want to read if you're easily offended.
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on 10 July 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Devil's Punchbowl is set in Natchez, a town in the Deep South on the Mississipi. Mayor Penn Cage, who regular Greg Iles readers will recall from previous books, meets up with an old school friend who demands to meet in total secrecy. What Cage learns leads him into a dark world of corruption, gambling and dogfighting, putting himself and those close to him in danger.

The thrust of the story is exciting and action packed, but, although I enjoyed it enough, I found myself slightly cold when it came to the characters, none of whom immediately grabbed my attention. The love interest between Penn and journalist Caitlin didn't really do it for me either.

The story is definitely adult themed - some of the characters are violent and sadistic (and clearly taken from the drawer marked "Stereotypical Micks") and Iles doesn't shirk from providing details. This didn't bother me, but if you're easily offended I'd steer clear.

But the biggest fault with the book is its length. I have no particular problem with long books, but only where it's justified. Here, the book just feels bloated and the drama of the events is weakened as a result. There's even a whole story arc that is introduced and ultimately goes absolutely nowhere, which I found bizarre.

There's so many better thrillers out there that, whilst this isn't an awful book, I wouldn't bother with this one unless you've read previous Iles books and loved either them or the Penn Cage character.
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on 13 August 2009
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
An action thriller has to catch a reader's attention from the very start and run with it. This is possible in a book of between 300-400 pages, but Greg Iles' `The Devil's Punchbowl' shows how even the best written thrills cannot last for almost 600 pages. `Punchbowl' starts off as it means to go on with some good set pieces, but stretched out over far too many pages. The story of a man trying to fight against corrupt and violent gangsters is a good one, but we learn far too much about the inner feelings of each character. It takes around 150 pages before the real story unfolds and by this time many readers will have moved on to something else.

In terms of action the book has some great moments. The enemies on offer are cruel and in protagonist Penn Cage we have a hero we can like. However, sometimes the action goes too far into the macabre. Scenes of torture and slow death have never appealed to me and on a couple of occasions Iles is too graphic. This is a shame as he has a good sense of place in his writing as the Deep South comes through well. Unfortunately, throughout the book Iles is not able to strike the balance between detail and pace; bogging the story down on far too many occasions with extraneous details. With a bolder editor `The Devil's Punchbowl' would have been a far quicker and slimmer book. Instead, we have a bloated tomb that becomes average under its own weight.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
`Midnight in the garden of the dead'.

The novel starts with a meeting in a graveyard. So far, so good. I love a thriller, me, so I was looking forward to some southern crime. Iles had come up on my Amazon recommendations and so when this appeared on the Vine list it seemed like a good choice - but I found this very hard work. Why? Well some of the writing is just terrible. For example, Penn meets an old girlfriend `But Libby's soft brown eyes shine as she hugs Annie, and in them I see an acknowledgment that the sadness she feels is in part her own choice'. Please...

It's far too long for its content (596 pages and felt like a lot more), sub Grisham in its plotting and wooden characterisation and trite in its social messages. Not my cup of tea.
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on 14 August 2014
I made the mistake of reading this after Natchez Burning, which is very assured and compelling. The Devil's Punchbowl feels too much like a work in progress; it's clumsily constructed and it could have done with judicious pruning. Not only that, it peaks too soon, so that the last third of the book becomes an extended - and rambling - anticlimax.

The violence here strikes me as gratuitous in the extreme; at least the horrors of Natchez Burning could be justified in terms of the novel's historical context. There are passages of dubious morality as well. These are handled much more thoughtfully in Natchez Burning, which is a far more complex and satisfying read.
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