Nubile blondes may rule in fashion magazines, adolescent sexual fantasies, and the novels of Candace Bushnell, but they don’t fare so well in thrillers — where they are regularly stalked, slashed, sexually assaulted, and strangled. What this says about our warped cultural attitudes I’ll let the Ph.D.’s hash out, but anyone in search of thesis material should investigate Greg Iles’ sodden Turning Angel.
As Iles’ overwrought 10th whodunit begins, overachieving high school senior Kate Townsend’s half-naked body is found in a Natchez, Miss., creek. A tall, gorgeous ”Nordic blonde,” Kate had been a Harvard-bound cheerleader and tennis star who read Paddy Chayefsky, stole other girls’ boyfriends, did charity work, and, in her free time, babysat. (Is it any surprise that someone offed her?) Hours after Kate’s murder, Drew Elliott, a 40-year-old married doctor and ”pillar of the community,” hires narrator Penn Cage — the prosecutor-turned-novelist Iles introduced in 1999’s The Quiet Game — to represent him. Drew confesses to a torrid extramarital affair with Kate. ”These kids aren’t like we were, Penn,” Elliott explains. ”You have no idea.”
Ah, but Iles is eager to fill us in. A short list of Kate’s youthful enthusiasms includes watching gay male porn, threesomes (”I’d love to see Drew do things to a guy, and vice versa,” Kate gushes in her journal), and erotic asphyxiation. Some of these proclivities are shared by luscious teen Mia, who babysits for Penn’s daughter, conveniently offering Penn the opportunity to flex his superior moral muscle by resisting her lavishly described charms. (Iles suggests this is a mighty challenge indeed.) What makes the novel nauseating is the pretense of a moral point of view in what amounts to an NC-17-rated male fantasy. What makes the book virtually unreadable is the multi-car pileup of a plot.