Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Greg Iles


Greg Iles 1960

Major Works

  • Spandau Phoenix, 1993
  • Black Cross, 1995
  • Mortal Fear, 1997
  • The Quiet Game, (Penn Cage novel), 2000
  • 24 Hours, 2000 (became movie Trapped)
  • Dead Sleep July 2001
  • Sleep No More 2002
  • The Footprints of God: A Novel 2003
  • Dark Matter 2004
  • Turning Angel , (Penn Cage novel) , 2005
  • Blood Memory 2005
  • True Evil 2006
  • Third Degree 2007
  • The Devil's Punchbowl (Penn Cage novel), 2009
  • The Death Factory: A Penn Cage Novella 2014 (Kindle Single)
  • Natchez Burning 2014
  • The Bone Tree (to be published as volume two of trilogy Natchez Burning)

    Photo above: Greg Iles, Oxford, MS. 2002. Photo by Nancy Jacobs

Biography of Greg Iles
By Bahar Adeli (SHS) 2001 (SEE UPDATES BELOW)

Greg IlesGreg Iles has gone from being an unknown writer from Natchez, Mississippi, to the writer of eight New York Times best-sellers since 1992.  This nationally-acclaimed Mississippi writer not only spends his time writing novels that are full of suspense from to cover to cover, but he is also a screenwriter and a  talented musician.  Even though he spends much time writing  novels,  participating in book signings, and writing the screen play for the upcoming movie based on his book 24 Hours called Trapped,  Greg Iles also finds time to spend with the most important people in his life:  his wife, Carrie, and two children, Madeline and Mark.

Iles was born in 1960 during the height of the Cold War in Stuttgart, Germany, where his father was the head of the U.S. Embassy medical clinic there (Padgett).  He moved to the United States in 1963 when he was three years old and spent most of his life growing up in Natchez, Mississippi (Baughn).  There Iles, who graduated from Trinity High School, was a  National Merit finalist.  Before writing novels,  his first love was music (Watkins 1A).  He earned about $30,000 a year playing the guitar while receiving his English degree at the University of Mississippi, known as Ole Miss, from which he graduated in 1983 (Padgett). Interestingly, while at Ole Miss Greg Iles lived in the cabin where William Faulkner and his brothers heard stories told by Mammy Callie, Faulkner's nanny.

Iles played in a band called Frankly Scarlet for several years.  After a disagreement with the band on New Year's Eve (1990) in Mobile, Alabama, Iles decided he did not want to be in the music business forever, so he decided to write novels instead.

Greg Iles and his guitarGreg Iles's career as a writer probably began when he started writing for eighteen hours a day (Watkins 9A).  His first book was a World War II thriller called Spandau Phoenix, which was published in 1993.  It immediately became a New York Times bestseller.  Iles's second novel, published in 1995, was called Black Cross, which was also a World War II thriller, and, became a New York Times bestseller. Black Cross  received a Mississippi author's award for fiction after Iles was nominated for the award by John Grisham.  One of his more famous thrillers, published in 1997, is Mortal Fear (Baughn).  Also a New York Times bestseller, this novel is about an ordinary man who lives an extraordinary life.  24 Hours is another of Iles's recent novels which was published in 2000. Currently, Greg Iles, along with Luis Mandoki, are taking his best-selling novel, 24 Hours, to the big screen   The movie is being made in Canada and will debut in 2002 (Shmitz).  In addition, Iles has just finished  a new novel called Dead Sleep, which was just  published in July of 2001 (Iles).

Alongside his successful writing career, Greg Iles is once again practicing music when at home with his family (Baughn).  In Natchez, Iles is known not only as a writer, but also as a husband to his wife Carrie, who is a dentist, and a great father to his son Mark and daughter Madeline.  Now that music is back in his Devil's Punchbowl by Greg Ileslife, Iles plans to make a CD with Kelly Pates, a singer from Jackson, Mississippi, of tunes he created.  Even though his career as a writer is important to him, he also hopes that the music industry will allow him to become as successful with his guitar as he is with his novels (Watkins 9A). He is currently a member of the band The Rock Bottom Remainders.

Hard work and determination have helped Greg Iles receive the success he has today.  His suspense-filled thrillers are allowing this outstanding writer from Mississippi to rise quickly to the top of the charts (Baughn).  From music to writing and now to making movies, Iles has shown the world that he is outstanding at anything he does.  With all the success he has gained from his previous novels, and now with a new movie based on his book 24 Hours called Trapped and two new books, Dead Sleep and Sleep No More, Greg Iles will be holding on to the top position for a long time. 

2008-2009 UPDATE: Greg Iles continues to play with the musical group The Rock Bottom Remainders which includes Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Matt Groening, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, and James McBride. Roger McGuinn, co-founder of the Byrds, sometimes also sits in. Iles has published six more books including The Footprints of God in 2003, which was reprinted as Dark Matter in 2004, Turning Angel  in 2005, Blood Memory in 2005, True Evil in 2006, and Third Degree in 2007. He and his wife Carrie have divorced.

2014 UPDATE

Greg Iles at Ole Miss's Grove in 2002..  Photo by Nancy JacobsAfter nearly five years, Greg Iles is publishing his first new novel, titled Natchez Burning. In 2011 Iles was in a a car accident in which he was almost killed. He lost part of his right leg and sustained other severe injuries. In a letter to his readers, he states, "I have fought my way back to health, and in the process I've written three novels that form a trilogy about Penn Cage and his family. These are very big books, and ambitious in every way. They transcend being "thrillers," and are much more like The Quiet Game than some of my other novels." Volume One, Natchez Burning, is to be published by William Morrow on April 29, 2014. In addition, a novella for e-readers entitled The Death Factory provides the resolution to the cliffhanger at the end of The Devil's Punchbowl. He is now finishing The Bone Tree, which will be Volume Two of the Natchez Burning trilogy.

Greg Iles recently became engaged. He and his son are working on a short film documentary about some of the civil rights case which were the inspiration for the Natchez Burning trilogy. His children are now teenagers.

Iles writes in a variety of genres, keeping his readers guessing. All have reached the bestseller list. Currently, he is even working on a graphic novel called The Lost Century about the contact between the Roman Empire and Taoist China.

The third and final book of the Natchez Burning Trilogy will be titled Unwritten Laws.

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A Review of Black Cross
by Bahar Adeli(SHS) 2001

Black Cross by Greg IlesGreg Iles's second novel, Black Cross, is one of the best-selling historical thrillers in stores.  Not only is this remarkable novel intriguing, but I also interpreted it as a bit philosophical because of the morals it is based on and because of the brave way the characters put aside their morals in order to save the lives of many people.  As a World War II thriller, this novel takes fiction and combines it with true facts, making a stunning and mesmerizing novel that is hard to put down.  The main characters in this novel are two men, a Jewish assassin and  an  American pacifist doctor from Georgia who  are sent to Germany in order to save millions of lives.  But in order to do so, they must first sacrifice their own beliefs so that they can work together on this very important mission.

The novel begins in the United States where after his grandparent's funeral, Mark finds out about a long kept secret of his grandfather's.  A rabbi, Leibovitz, comes to him and tells him how his grandfather, Dr. Mark McConnell, was actually one of the greatest heroes of World War II.  Next, a flashback reverts to World War II where the British are planning an invasion in Europe later on in the spring.  Winston Churchill finds out that the Germans have developed this deadly and very powerful poison gas called Sarin, which is equivalent to a cobra strike to the brain.  Churchill, scared that the Germans will use this gas to invade his army, recruits Mark McConnell, who is a chemical engineer and a doctor, and Jonas Stern, a Zionist assassin, to complete one of the most important missions in the history of any war:  preventing Hitler from using this poison nerve gas.  Along with the allies, Churchill develops a plan to stop Hilter from using this lethal weapon by destroying the secret laboratory hidden in a Nazi death camp.  However,  if the plan goes as it should, then not only will the lab be destroyed, but the hundreds of Jewish prisoners in the death camp will also die.

young Greg IlesBlack Cross is an interesting book in many ways that other books are not.  Personally, I thought the flashback was both interesting, suspenseful, and unique.  In my own mind, the book was playing like a movie because of the flashback.  Because the book would switch back and forth from the first-person point of view of Dr. McConnell to third-person omniscient point of view, it made the plot more interesting and at times gave the reader a chance to come back to modern times from the horrific scenes of savage cruelty in World War II .  Not only was the book fascinating, it was also informing.   Some of the incidents described at the concentration camps actually occurred around fifty to sixty years ago.

Honestly, this is one of the best books I have read in a long time.  I liked some of the themes Iles supported in this novel, such as the idea that sometimes we have to put aside what we believe in for the betterment of others and for our own survival . An example of this is the connection between Dr. McConnell and  the Jewish assassin when they were trying to save the Jews.  Another theme is that desperate times require desperate measures.  If the characters in this novel had not sacrificed their own beliefs in order to save others, the outcome would undoubtedly have been different.

A Review of Black Cross
by Dennis Rowe (SHS)

The novel Black Cross by Greg Iles is a fast-paced historical thriller. A pacifist doctor and a Jewish assassin are sent into the heart of Germany to fight their worst nightmare. They must learn to change or millions of people might die from a terrible evil.

The two main characters, Mark McConnell and Jonas Stern, are complete opposites. They must come together and form a friendship that will help them overcome the Germans. At the same time they are fighting their own beliefs. Mark McConnell is a "pacifist American doctor who ultimately comes to accept that he must kill innocents for a greater good." Jonas Stern is a fanatical Zionist assassin that learns "that only by showing mercy and compassion can he bear to survive." They must come together to form an alliance that will strike at Sarin, the last remaining hope for the Germans. This is a gas created by Germans in a remote SS concentration camp and in the final stage of testing.

The novel begins in America in the present. Mark's grandparents have just died in a freak air crash. After the funeral Rabbi Leibovitz comes to Mark and explains that his grandfather had done more in World War II than just sit behind a desk. His grandfather, also named Mark, became one of the greatest heros of World War II and was awarded the Cross secretly by the English for his actions. The novel now jumps back to that war where the English are preparing to invade Europe in the Spring. It comes to the attention of Winston Churchill that the Germans have a new gas that can stop an army in its tracks called Sarin. Worried that the Germans might use this new gas on the invading army in the summer, Churchhill recruits Mark McConnell, a chemical engineer, and Jonas Stern, an assassin, to partake in a mission neither understands. They are sent to a secret camp in England to learn the basics of what they need in their mission. From there they move to the heart of Germany where, with the help of two women, they plan their attack on Germany's most dangerous weapon.

True Evil by Greg IlesBlack Cross begins in the first chapter in the present where it is in first-person point of view. It then jumps to World War II where it is in third-person omniscient point of view until the last chapter. In the last chapter it jumps back to the present where it is again in first-person point of view. The changes in the point of view make the book more interesting.There are two major themes in this novel. One of them is desperate times demand desperate measures and another is that one has to change to survive. The title of the book is significant. A black cross is placed on cans of Sarin to identify the gas. The title also has another meaning. The Cross is awarded to soldiers that show great valor and Mark receives one for valor. The black also represents the death and destruction that came with Mark's obtaining the award.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this novel. Black Cross is a fast-paced and well-written novel. Greg Isles is a great Mississippi writer as well as a great American writer. It was a pleasure to read his novel.


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Interview with Greg Iles (2001)
by Bahar Adeli (SHS)

Note: Production on the film 24 Hours, based on Iles's book of the same name, began in Vancouver, Canada, in  March, 2001, and finished in June, 2001.  When Greg Iles, who was on the set writing the screen play, returned home, he responded to Bahar's questions below.

You were born in Germany when your father was in the U. S. Embassy there.  When did you move to the United States?

I moved to the US in 1963. I was 3 years old.

What are your parents' names? any siblings?

My father is Dr. Jerry Iles, an M.D., and my mother, Betty Iles, was a teacher.

Bahar Adeli, SHS student researcherWhat were your favorite subjects and areas you were good in?

My favorite subjects were English, History, Ethics, etc.

What did you want to be "when you grew up"?

I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. And I still haven't grown up!

Why did you major in English at Ole Miss?

I majored in English at Ole MIss, but I don't think that contributed to my becoming a writer

I heard you played in a band called Frankly Scarlet, do you think the band will ever be together again?

Frankly Scarlet will probably never reunite, though I am still good friends with some of the members.

What's your favorite book?

My favorite books are All the King's Men, The Great Gatsby, and the Honourable Schoolboy.

Besides playing the guitar, do you have any other pasttimes?Photo by Nancy Jacobs

My hobbies are songwriting, thinking, and reading.

When did you get married to your wife Carrie?

I married my wife when I was 29. We were high school sweethearts who got married ten years after high school.

How old are your children, Madeline and Mark?

Madeline is 7, and Mark is 4.

If you could be anything besides a writer, what would it be?

If  I were to be anything besides a writer, I would be a film director.

If you could, please tell me a little about the new book you have coming out in July.

My new novel is titled DEAD SLEEP. It is my first novel to use a female protagonist, which was quite a challenge as the novel is told in the first person. She is a Pulitzer prizewinning war photographer haunted by the death of her twin sister, and about her quest to learn the truth about her sister's death.Dead Sleep by Greg Iles
 

Is the movie 24 Hours like the book? If no, what's different?

As for 24 HOURS, the film, I wrote the screenplay, and I have changed several things from the "book version" of the story. However, because I have been so intimately involved with the film, I feel that the movie may be better than the book, or at least as good, anyway. (NOTE: The movie was renamed Trapped.)
 

Do you plan on making any of your other books into movies?

I do plan on making more films, but I'm not sure if I will adapt my own novels--which are not very suited to the condensed format of film--or write original screenplays, something I am already doing.

Do you have any surprises in store for your fans in the future about you or your books or a movie? anything special?
Anything else you would like to add?

As for surprises, the novel I am beginning now explores my views on religion, philosophy, and artificial intelligence--through the revolution in quantum physics, quite a tall order since it will still be classed as a "thriller."

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Review of The Devil's Punchbowl
by Maggie Lowery Stevenson (Lemuria's Bookstore) Reprinted with permission.

Greg Iles' The Devil's Punchbowl, published in 2009, is a novel set in Natchez and Penn Cage is now the mayor. In his quest to improve the Natchez public schools and bring jobs back to Natchez, he has turned to casino gambling like other Mississippi towns. There are now five floating casinos along the river, but one boat, The Magnolia Queen, is not the same and has a lot to hide. There have been rumors that big players from Vegas have been coming to the Mississippi backwater on private jets to gamble and to participate in various “blood sports” such as dog fighting. When an old friend of Penn’s brings him evidence, he feels completely guilty for not being able to protect his home town from these wicked ways. Soon Penn realizes that if he is going to fight this corruption, he is going to be on his own. Not knowing whom to trust in his own administration or on the police force, Penn calls in some old friends for help, Caitlin Masters, Danny McDavitt, Tom Cage and Walt Garrity. These friends and some new friends made along the way realize this is no ordinary enemy but one who has the ability to anticipate and counter their every move.

This book is nonstop action–-full of plot twists–so if you have a long “to do list,” do not start this book before everything is done because you will not want to stop reading until you are finished with The Devil's Punchbowl, and then trust me, you will want more.

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Photos of Greg Iles taken in the Grove at Ole Miss as he appeared on a Thacker Mountain Radio broadcast on July 18, 2002. As the evening  progressed, it got darker and darker; and there was no light on the stageAll photos by Nancy Jacobs.

 

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Timeline

  • Born in 1960 in Stuttgart, Germany
  • 1963:  Moved to Natchez, Mississippi, when he was three years old
  • Graduated from Trinity High School in 1979
  • Played in a band called Frankly Scarlet during college
  • Graduated with a degree in English from the University of Mississippi in 1983
  • Married his wife Carrie at age 29
  • Frankly Scarlet, his band, breaks up on New Year's Eve 1990
  • Iles's daughter, Madeline, is born in 1991.
  • Published his first book, Spandau Phoenix, in 1992
  • Published Black Cross in 1995
  • Iles's son, Mark, is born in 1996.
  • Published Mortal Fear in 1997
  • Published Quiet Game in 2000
  • Published 24 Hours in 2000
  • Dead Sleep,  published July 2001
  • Writes screenplay Trapped based on his novel 24 Hours,  filmed in Canada in 2001 and released in 2002
  • Sleep No More published  in 2002
  • The Footprints of God published in 2003
  • Dark Matter (new title for The Footprints of God) in 2004
  • Turning Angel and Blood Memory published 2005
  • True Evil published by Scribner, December 12, 2006
  • Third Degree published in 2007
  • The Devil's Punchbowl, 2009

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Related Websites

This is Greg Iles's own personal web site with a synopsis of each of his novels, a biography (which includes a video clip of Greg singing Paperback Writer with The Rock Bottom Remainders.

Allreaders reviews and discusses Dead Sleep

Read about Greg Iles on Library Thing.

Here's a link to the Rock Bottom emainders on You-Tube. Greg Iles plays guitar and sings Paperback Writer.

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Bibliography

Baughn, Alice J. "Bestselling author Greg Iles changes his style, not his pizzazz."
    The Sun Herald. 1997, http://www.sunherald.com/living/docs/iles0216.htm> (22 April 2001)

Iles, Greg. Black Cross. New York City: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1995.

Iles, Greg. "Re: Mississippi Writer's Project."  Email to Bahar Adeli from author Greg Iles.  Thu, 24 May 2001.

Iles, Greg. Greg Iles's Website. <http://www.gregiles.com> (22 April 2001)

Padgett, John B."Greg Iles." The Mississippi Writer's Page. University of Mississippi
    < http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/iles_greg/> (22 April 2001)

Shmitz, Greg D. Upcoming Movies. http://www.upcomingmovies.com/24hours.html> (22 April 2001)

Watkins, Billy."Natchez author now just strums for fun." Clarion Ledger , 1A-9A. 4 Sept. 1999. 

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Updated March 7, 2014
Originally printed 2001
Updated July 12, 2009
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