Actually, there would be two if the hero-cum-narrator would get it on with the babysitter who has a crush on him. But Penn Cage is no Nabokov hero. He springs from the pen — or was it the keyboard? — of the New York Times bestselling novelist Greg Iles who knows where to draw the line. But he comes dangerously close to the edge and makes pretty good reading.
Set in Natchez, Mississippi, Turning Angel is a whodunnit where a doctor is charged with the murder of his 17-year-old girlfriend. The affair shocks the local community where both the doctor and the girl — the high school valedictorian — were seen as role models. But the doctor protests he didn’t kill the girl. And her mother and his friend, Penn, believe him. Typically, the hero tries to save his friend and gets in harm’s way. He runs up against crooked officials and violent drug dealers. The officials want the doctor convicted and so, for their own reasons, do the drug dealers. The hero discovers the murky side of local politics and rampant drug use at the elite high school.
What makes this book different is the relationship between the hero and the babysitter. A widower with a little daughter who wants a mother, he is in the middle of a relationship that’s going nowhere. His girlfriend is an ambitious journalist who chases stories in big cities and doesn’t care for small-town life. So babysitting his daughter is another high-school girl, also 17 years old. She is in love with him. Helping him investigate the murder, she gets into danger too. And he finds himself fighting the same feelings as his friend. He begins to understand how the doctor, a married man with a young son, fell in love with a 17-year-old.
The author doesn’t condone the relationship. He shows the shame and suffering it brings. But if a writer is expected to help us understand human nature, Iles passes the test with flying colours. The ending brought a lump in my throat.