I very much enjoyed Greg Iles' last book, Turning Angel, though I found the characters extremely unlikable. The book itself was relentless in its pacing and hard to put down. Iles' latest book, True Evil, has many of the same qualities, though the characters are a little better and the plot isn't quite as riveting. Iles' style is much the same, but the plot is preposterous enough that it fails to engage the reader like Turning Angel did. Piling on the angst and resorting to huge infodumps compounds the problem.
Alex Morse is an FBI agent with a lot of problems. One of the best hostage negotiators the Bureau has ever seen, she's let her emotions get away from her. Her ex-cop father was killed in a robbery, her mother is dying, and now her sister is dying, too, after a stroke. A botched negotiation has resulted in her own permanent facial disfigurement and the death of a fellow agent who she loved. When Alex is told at her dying sister's bedside and that her husband has killed her, it's a sure thing that Alex is going to blow up. She discovers that divorce attorney Andrew Rusk is offering some of his rich clients the opportunity to have their spouses murdered rather than going through a messy divorce, and best of all it will look like a natural death. Alex discovers that the wife of Dr. Chris Shephard has been to see this attorney and is determined to use him as bait. Racing both the sinister scientist who uses these murders to raise money for his biological experiments as well as her FBI superiors, who wouldn't look kindly on the unauthorized investigation, Alex must win, or Dr. Shephard will just be the next victim.
The problems with this book start right off the bat. The first one seems minor initially, except for the fact that it derails the rest of the plot if you think about it. Alex's sister, Grace, tells Alex on her deathbed that her husband has murdered her, and she is incredibly fearful whenever her husband enters the room. There's no indication how she could have discovered this, though. Later on, we see how the scientist, Dr. Tarver, administers the disease, and it's unlikely that Grace could have figured out what happened. Since that's what sets Alex on course to investigate everything, this implausibility does serious damage to the rest of the plot's credibility.
Putting that aside, however, the beginning is simply slow. It would be even slower if Iles didn't give us Rusk and Tarver's point of view right away, as the investigation itself moves at a glacial pace when Morse has to convince Shephard of the danger he is in. If I hadnít seen the bad guys at the outset, I would probably have put this book down after the first 100 pages. The scenes where Morse tries to persuade Shephard that she is not crazy get monotonous after a while. She confronts him with what she knows, baiting the hook to get him to think about what his wife might be doing, he resists, they part, he discovers something weird about his wife, and then Morse confronts him again. Their whining is irritating, and Iles fails to make them interesting. I was thinking, "Here's another Iles book where I have no sympathy for any of the characters."
It definitely gets better once everybody is on the same page, however. We see both sides of the issue throughout the entire book, making the cat-and-mouse game where we don't know which side is the cat and which the mouse that much more exciting to read about. Once the plot gets moving, the book is hard to put down again. Iles' prose, despite being littered with some silly passages, keeps the plot moving at a quick pace.
That is true except when Iles decides to do an infodump from either Tarver's or Rusk's viewpoint. We get a lot of Tarver's history through him thinking about his work and what he's had to go through to continue it. We see Rusk's thoughts on many issues, making him even more despicable than he appears normally. While it's good to know more about these characters, the manner Iles chooses to give the information to the reader brings the book to a screeching halt too often. Add to this the needless continuity with two of his other books (Turning Angel and The Quiet Game), and you get a plotting structure that grates more often than it excites. Don't even get me started about the conspiracy theory involving the U.S. government and the AIDS virus.
Still, Iles manages to be engaging enough that I'm glad I read True Evil. Tarver's character is delicious, and it's nice that things begin to fall apart for him and Rusk not through incompetence but by hard work and pressure forcing mistakes to be made. He's intelligent and a joy to read about, with his infodumps being the most interesting of all of them. Shephard and Morse come into their own after their almost catastrophic behavior at the beginning of the book, though they are still much less interesting than Tarver. Morse's angst becomes overwhelming at times, lessening interest in her considerably until she once again does something engaging. Rusk is annoying, but I realize that he's mostly that way to complement Tarver.
With all the plusses and minuses, True Evil works out to be a perfectly average book. The highs are very high and make the book worth reading, but the lows are bad enough to make it a slog at times. If you like thrillers, though, this is a decent pickup.