The Quiet Game

The Quiet Game

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Ungodly—an expression that can be used as a superlative, a pejorative or an expletive. For the religious, its meaning is definitely negative. Greg Iles' most recent novel starts with a quote from Galations: "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap." From there, the novel goes on to prove that the biblical passage is true by putting forth a most ungodly group of characters engaged in a most ungodly series of events.

Penn Cage has been practicing law as a prosecutor in Houston, where he has made a reputation for putting people on death row. He is perhaps best known for having shot to death the brother of one of the people he put on death row. His wife's death by cancer changes everything for him, and he tries to deal with the grief by taking his four-year-old daughter on a trip that finds them at Disney World when the book opens. He is standing in line for a ride when his daughter shouts, "Daddy! I saw Mama! Hurry!"

Torn by tears and goaded by grief, Cage decides to take his daughter to live with his parents in Natchez, Miss. He calls his assistant in Houston and has her put his house up for sale. While flying from Florida to Natchez with his daughter sleeping in a first-class seat, a beautiful woman engages him in conversation. She fails to mention that she is a newspaper employee always looking for a story. The chance meeting has consequences that carry to the final page of the book.

The story is not simple. It is riveting. When Cage arrives in Natchez, he discovers his father is being blackmailed by a former sheriff's deputy. He runs into the newspaper employee, Caitlin Masters, who takes him to lunch and makes clear that her intentions are not honorable. She also quotes him in a newspaper story that, combined with his search for a way to extricate his father, leads him onto an emotional tightrope.

At the height of the civil rights movement in Natchez, a young Korean War veteran had been murdered. The murder was chalked up to the racial tensions of the day and was never solved. As Cage weaves his way through the knotty threads that make up the fabric of his father's blackmail, he learns that the same former deputy conducting the blackmail probably killed or knows who killed the Korean War veteran.

He vows to help the widow of the Korean War veteran find her husband's killer, and he is led right back to his own past where he was dating Livy Marston, the daughter of one of the most influential men in Mississippi. He learns there has been an elaborate cover-up of the Korean veteran's murder, which may not have had anything to do with civil rights after all.

Caught between two women, dodging bullets from all sides as he dances on the tightrope between truth and fiction, Cage leads the reader through romance, mystery and suspense. At the heart of everything is the struggle to reconcile his wife's death with the possibility of a life with another woman. The standards applied are not those deriving from family values or religious morality. Cage lives his life according to "do what feels right" situational ethics. At times he recognizes that following his feelings without applying a more concrete standard of right and wrong leaves him blowing in the winds of emotional circumstance, endangering his, his daughter's and his father's lives.

"Playing the quiet game" deals with emotional circumstances and is a saying that connotes putting a sweet and easy face on life at the surface to lure an unsuspecting mark into a trap. In Cage's case, everyone was being quiet about the Korean War veteran's death to keep it in the past. But the quiet game was being played at a number of levels, the lowest of which provides the key to all of the mysteries confronting Cage. The action culminates in the courtroom, where relationships turn out to be other than they appear on the surface. Once again, the quiet game is at work.

There is, however, no game involved in reading this novel, and quiet is not how your mind and emotions will be while and after you read it. Ungodly? That is an apt description of the morality of the main characters. Some obviously reap what they sow and some do not. Nevertheless, you will get caught up in the quiet game.

Journal Date: 
Wednesday, December 1, 1999