Iles's previous thriller, 2003's provocative The Footprints of God, featured an omnipotent supercomputer and an on-the-run duo racing around the globe from North Carolina to Jerusalem. This time, Iles returns to more familiar ground: Natchez, Miss.; New Orleans; and the Mississippi delta, where a serial predator has been killing middle-aged men. Forensic odontologist Cat Ferry, an expert on teeth and the damage they can inflict, is called in by the New Orleans PD to explain the bite marks found on the bodies. Cat, the alcoholic granddaughter of Dr. William Kirkland, owner of the sprawling Malmaison estate and the richest, most powerful man in Natchez, has solved previous murders with her married detective lover, Sean Regan. This time, though, she's pregnant with Sean's baby, and this plus the discovery of old bloody footprints hidden in the carpet fibers of her Malmaison childhood bedroom threaten to plummet her into the depression that's plagued her since she was 15. She thinks one footprint might be hers, made on the night her father died of an ill-explained gunshot wound. Iles weaves in dark strains of child sexual abuse and the resulting repressed memories as Cat searches for the serial killer and for answers about her father's death. This overlong novel lacks the scintillating originality that made Iles's last outing so memorable, but he ties up all the loose ends in an exciting climax.
In his ninth book, Iles returns to the Deep South, an old Natchez mansion to be exact, where 31-year-old Catherine Ferry, a forensic specialist, retreats after panic attacks interfere with her work on what appears to be a string of serial killings. No sooner does she arrive than she discovers that the facts of her privileged if troubled youth in the house, where black servants still cater to the whims of Cat's racist, iron-willed grandfather, are an elaborate fiction. In her quest for the truth, especially about the brutal death of her father, she opens the door to a disturbing family history that puts her at both physical and emotional risk-and, eventually, leads her to the doorstep of an unusual serial killer. Iles' dialogue leaves something to be desired this time around ('I have to keep digging until I uncover the truth. If I don't, I'll go mad'), and a heavy dose of melodrama (Cat, a longtime alcoholic with bipolar disease, goes cold turkey when she discovers she's pregnant) gets in the way of the mystery. Still, this provocative tale of twisted lives and dark, agonizing secrets delivers enough atmospheric suspense to keep Iles' many fans entertained till the last page.