I've written this review three different ways: satirically, derisively, and in the style which you are about to read. There are numerous reviews for this book wherein the reviewer flat out lies about the content for whatever reason. I wanted to focus on the dishonest nature of these reviews, but that would be break my own code of conduct. They are not my reviews. These other reviews are those reviewers' subjective opinions, even if they are utter bullshit. Suffice it to say, most of the negative reviews for this book are erroneous to the point that I feel the reviewers should be ashamed at the level of fabrication to which they stooped. In the end, I asked myself, "Do you really care what a group of dishonest attention whores thinks?" The answer is yes and no. I find it sad beyond belief that someone would feel the need to lie in an attempt to keep people away from this terrific, challenging novel, mainly because more people should read it. But I don't give a squirt of piss for their asinine comments, because I can say with the utmost confidence that they either a) did not actually read the book, or b) projected their own suspect morals to the thematic elements herein.
The Devil's Punchbowl has one of the most evil, reprehensible villains I've come across in a long time. I read this book back in December and Julian Sands has stayed with me ever since. In this, the third Penn Cage novel, Iles ramps up both the action and the uncomfortable subject matter. You will bear witness to a single dogfight, the aftermath of a different dogfight, and brief descriptions of child pornography and abuse. While the subject of dogfighting is prevalent throughout the book, this book is not full of dogfights, as some reviewers will have you believe. The characters in this book are not flippant when it comes to the treatment of animals. Penn Cage and everyone else who comes across the tragedy of this inhumane "sport" are shaken to their core by the cruelty exhibited. Only the villains enjoy the "sport", and the one good guy who is nonchalant about watching the single dogfight in this book is nonchalant because he is undercover, and if he breaks that cover, the bad guys will kill him.
Let me be perfectly clear on this one point: There are absolutely not multiple dogfights in this novel. Anyone who says there is more than one is lying. Still, I understand that, to some, one dogfight is one dogfight too many. I respect that and understand. But I believe that ignoring this book based on a few paragraphs in one chapter would be to do yourself a great disservice. If you are someone who appreciates affecting fiction, this book delivers time and time again. To write off this novel as a book about dogfighting is to call The Color Purple a movie about shaving.
The reason I appreciate Iles as much as I do is because he deals in themes. The first Penn Cage book dealt with racism, and the second was about the age of consent. This novel is about doing the right thing no matter how difficult it may seem. It's about not quitting. About being the better person. Iles manages to discuss these themes while entertaining his reader. The book is the perfect length based on the content you receive. It is a long book in page count only. Its 700 pages fly by with ease, and I found myself sad to see it draw to a close. Plenty of bang for your buck.
And lastly, I definitely appreciated the damsel in distress saving herself.
In summation: This is easily my favorite book in the series thus far, and it saddens me to see people lying about and/or exaggerating its contents. The novel is affecting, but it is not flippant in its discussion of sensitive issues. The bad guys get everything they deserve and then some. I was more than pleased with how they were dealt with. My highest possible recommendation.
Final Judgment: Powerful fiction disguised as your average thriller.