The Penn Cage books are a series of crime fiction books that focus heavily on the investigation and mystery side of crime.
The lead character, Penn Cage, is uniquely positioned as a crime investigator due to his past as a prosecutor and his years as an author.
Cage doesn’t investigate crimes to help the police but instead for reasons that are far more personal.
The author of the Penn Cage books is Greg Iles and the Penn Cage books are only a fraction of his bibliography.
Most of Iles’s works focus on crime and are in the thriller category and many are set in his home state of Mississippi.
Iles wrote the first three books in the Penn Cage series while convalescing from a serious traffic accident and they are all set in his own hometown of Natchez.
About The Penn Cage Books
The Penn Cage story begins when Cage moves back to his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi following the tragic loss of his wife to cancer.
Once a successful prosecutor and now an author, Cage returns to Natchez with his four-year-old daughter.
The first three books in the story follow sequentially and should be read in order, but each introduces a new standalone story.
The fourth book in the series, The Death Angel, is a novella set between The Devil’s Punchbowl and Natchez Burning.
Natchez Burning is the first book in the Natchez Burning trilogy and the two books that follow are tightly intertwined with the plot established in that book.
All of the stories are set in Mississippi and this choice of location is very important to the themes that run through all of the books.
Many of the books feature flashbacks to previous decades and the nature of racism in the South in both the past and present is one of the most important themes in the books.
It also drives the plot in many places and is integral to the motivations of several characters.
Other important themes established throughout the series include the importance of family and the nature of secrets.
Penn’s relationship with his father is regularly called into question, especially during the Natchez Burning trilogy, and the family secrets threaten to tear their relationship apart.
There are also multiple references to power and corruption as Penn faces off against increasingly dangerous and powerful foes.
Penn Cage Books In Order
Let’s now look at the Penn Cage books in order.
After the death of his wife, novelist and prosecutor Penn Cage returns to his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi with his young daughter.
He hopes to find some peace and solace in his hometown but instead stumbles into something darker.
Cage’s father is being blackmailed over a murder that happened a long time ago and Cage soon finds himself wrapped up in a long-forgotten mystery.
- Likable protagonist
- Several distinct plot lines are skillfully pulled together
- Too many characters that are easily confused or forgotten
The body of a young woman named Kate Townsend is found near the Mississippi River.
Kate was a star student and promising athlete, but she also had a hidden life that nobody knew about.
Penn Cage’s best friend Drew Elliott was dating Kate at the time of her murder, making him the prime suspect.
Penn begins investigating in the hope of clearing the name of his friend.
- Many intriguing twists
- A fast-paced and riveting story
- Drew Elliott is as sympathetic a character as the author intended him to be
Newly elected as mayor of Natchez, Penn Cage has a great desire to do what is right for his hometown.
However, much of Natchez’s current prosperity comes from casino gambling aboard steamboats, and one of these boats is responsible for some dark vices entering Natchez.
Cage is made aware of the crimes happening aboard this steamboat but when his source is killed, Penn knows he is losing the battle for Natchez.
- Well-written and paints very vivid pictures
- Fascinating characters, both good and bad
- More violent than previous books in the series and includes scenes of animal cruelty
Penn Cage’s father, Tom, suffers a heart attack. When he arrives at the ER he is desperate for his son to arrive so that he can tell Penn something important.
However, when Penn does get to his bedside, Tom denies ever having a secret to tell.
The trauma of his father’s illness causes Penn to reminisce about cases he worked on years previously in Houston.
Were the killers placed on death row actually guilty or were the crime lab and DA’s office corrupt and not fit for purpose?
- Bursting with ideas and a fascinating plot considering its short length
- As it’s a novella, it is a quick and easy read
- Very abrupt ending
Dr. Tom Cage, Penn’s father, is accused of murdering an African American nurse he worked with during the 1960s.
Penn’s background as a prosecutor leads to him wanting to help his father but it’s impossible to help a man that refuses to speak in his own defense.
Instead, Penn has to look into the case himself and during his search for the truth of what happened, he discovers many secrets and dangers.
- The mystery at the heart of the novel is thrilling
- Weaves together the past and the present day well
- Very long and could have benefited from additional editing
Penn Cage thought that he had narrowly avoided the dangers he faced in Natchez Burning but he soon finds out that isn’t the case.
There is someone else on his tail now and Forrest Knox is far more dangerous and connected than anyone Cage has faced before.
At the same time, Cage is still hoping to clear his father’s name. Tom Cage is still on the run and Penn and his fiancee, Caitlin Masters, are the only ones who can help.
- Deals with some very weighty issues
- Sets up the next book while still being a standalone book
- Suffers from the same unnecessarily lengthy narrative as the previous book
The final book in the trilogy, which began with Natchez Burning, sees Penn Cage all alone.
His father is due to stand trial but is still freezing Penn from his defense and is more concerned with keeping his secrets hidden than defending his name.
Penn teams with a young black author named Serenity Butler to try to get to the bottom of the case, once and for all.
- A fitting end to the trilogy
- Well-written mystery with many twists and turns
- Court proceedings can be very dry and difficult to get through
In this article, we introduced the Penn Cage series of books, written by Greg Iles.
The series began with the book The Quiet Game and is due to continue with the soon-to-be-released novel, Southern Man.
The books follow the life of ex-prosecutor and author Penn Cage after a family tragedy sees him make the move back to his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi.
The first three books in the series tell standalone stories and see Penn investigating murders involving his father and best friend.
Throughout his investigations and desire to make Natchez a better place, Penn makes many serious enemies and finds his life in danger.
Some of these enemies are related to a racist group that has ties to the Ku Klux Klan and this is just one of the many ways that the theme of racism is explored throughout the series.
Iles makes great use of flashbacks and weaves in stories from decades ago to highlight the inherent racism found in the South and how it can still affect the modern day.
The Penn Cage books deal with several heavy themes and do not pull any punches when it comes to descriptions of violence and dark situations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Now let’s answer some of the most commonly asked questions about the Penn Cage books.
Should The Penn Cage Books Be Read In Order?
The books are sequential, so yes, they should be read in order. This is especially the case with books five to seven, known as The Natchez Burning trilogy.
The one exception is book number four, The Death Factory, which is a novella and can be skipped or read later in the series if you wish.
Is The Penn Cage Series Finished?
I listed seven Penn Cage books in this article as that is the full list of books that have been released so far.
However, an eighth book named Southern Man is due to be released soon so the series is not yet finished.
- 20 Must-Read Genre-Blending Literary Fiction Books - May 26, 2023
- 32 Gripping Epic Fantasy Books To Transport You To Another World - May 26, 2023
- 12 Books Like Red, White, And Royal Blue You Will Love - May 17, 2023