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The Devil's Punchbowl    by Greg Iles order for
Devil's Punchbowl
by Greg Iles
Order:  USA  Can
Scribner, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Joan Burton

Penn Cage, a prosecutor from Houston, is now mayor in his hometown of Natchez, Mississippi. It is the city he grew up in and loved as a child. His parents still reside there and his father Tom is a well known and respected Doctor in the area. Natchez is gearing up for its annual balloon festival which brings many tourists into the city, and Penn believes it will be a busy few days.

Tim Jessup, an old school friend of Penn's, calls him and wants to meet in the cemetery late one evening. Tim works on the floating casino, The Magnolia Queen, as a card dealer. He is jittery and secretive, but finally confides to Penn that there is more than gambling going on at the casino. He claims there is dog fighting, for the high rollers who come into town, and underage prostitution, along with money laundering. He has pictures to show Penn that leave him shaking and questioning his ability to act as Mayor of this dark city. Tim claims that the two Irishmen who run the casino are evil and have a torture room on board called The Devil's Punchbowl.

As Penn is drawn into the casino situation, Tim is found murdered, apparently mauled by dogs. Penn believes that even some of the local police are looking the other way and wonders who he can actually trust to help him deliver justice. After he confronts the two Irishmen, Sands and Quinn, Penn's family is threatened if he doesn't hand over evidence they believe he has. He immediately goes along with them, only to try and bring them down. He secretly hires Daniel Kelly, a friend who works for private security firm Blackhawk, and removes his family to a safe house far from the city.

Evidence is found of dog fighting in wooded areas along the Mississippi River. A stripper working at the casino (a friend of Tim's) is kidnapped and held hostage. She is raped and tortured, and led to believe she will be fed to the dogs if she doesn't tell all she knows. Ben Li, another casino worker who is a computer whiz has also vanished. When Penn's journalist girlfriend Catelin is kidnapped by the gangsters, Penn and Kelly race against time to find her whereabouts and bring down the house of horrors.

The Devil's Punchbowl is a fast paced, non stop action read. It is full of dark and evil and the scenes depicting the dog fights, along with the tortures and rapes endured by the women, are graphic and disturbing. Though not Iles' best, it will keeping you reading until the end.

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