After finding himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries, Detective Dave Robicheaux must battle the most terrifying adversary he has ever encountered: a time-traveling superhuman assassin.
The Shondell and Balangie families are longtime enemies in the New Iberia criminal underworld and show each other no mercy. Yet their youngest heirs, Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie, rock and roll-musician teenagers with magical voices, have fallen in love and run away after Isolde was given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle.
As he seeks to uncover why, Detective Dave Robicheaux gets too close to both Isolde’s mother and the mistress of her father, a venomous New Orleans mafioso whose jealousy has no bounds. In retribution, he hires a mysterious assassin to go after Robicheaux and his longtime partner, Clete Purcel. This hitman is unlike any the “Bobbsey Twins from Homicide” have ever faced. He has the ability to induce horrifying hallucinations and travels on a menacing ghost ship that materializes without warning. In order to defeat him and rescue Johnny and Isolde, Robicheaux will have to overcome the demons that have tormented him throughout his adult life — alcoholism, specters from combat in Vietnam, and painful memories of women to whom he opened his heart only to see killed.
Detective Dave Robicheaux’s world isn’t filled with too many happy stories, but Desmond Cormier’s rags-to-riches tale is certainly one of them. Robicheaux first met Cormier on the streets of New Orleans, when the young, undersized boy had foolish dreams of becoming a Hollywood director.
Twenty-five years later, when Robicheaux knocks on Cormier’s door, it isn’t to congratulate him on his Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Robicheaux has discovered the body of a young woman who’s been crucified, wearing only a small chain on her ankle. She disappeared near Cormier’s Cyrpemort Point estate, and Robicheaux, along with young deputy, Sean McClain, are looking for answers. Neither Cormier nor his enigmatic actor friend Antoine Butterworth are saying much, but Robicheaux knows better.
As always, Clete Purcel and Davie’s daughter, Alafair, have Robicheaux’s back. Clete witnesses the escape of Texas inmate, Hugo Tillinger, who may hold the key to Robicheaux’s case. As they wade further into the investigation, they end up in the crosshairs of the mob, the deranged Chester Wimple, and the dark ghosts Robicheaux has been running from for years. Ultimately, it’s up to Robicheaux to stop them all, but he’ll have to summon a light he’s never seen or felt to save himself, and those he loves.
Dave Robicheaux is a haunted man.
Between his recurrent nightmares about Vietnam, his battle with alcoholism, and the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Molly, his thoughts drift from one irreconcilable memory to the next. Images of ghosts at Spanish Lake live on the edge of his vision.
During a murder investigation, Dave Robicheaux discovers he may have committed the homicide he’s investigating, one which involved the death of the man who took the life of Dave’s beloved wife. As he works to clear his name and make sense of the murder, Robicheaux encounters a cast of characters and a resurgence of dark social forces that threaten to destroy all of those whom he loves. What emerges is not only a propulsive and thrilling novel, but a harrowing study of America: this nation’s abiding conflict between a sense of past grandeur and a legacy of shame, its easy seduction by demagogues and wealth, and its predilection for violence and revenge. James Lee Burke has returned with one of America’s favorite characters, in his most searing, most prescient novel to date.
For Dave Robicheaux, there is no easy passage home. New Orleans, and the memories of his life in the Big Easy, will always haunt him. So to return there — as he does in “Last Car to Elysian Fields” — means visiting old ghosts, exposing old wounds, opening himself up to new, yet familiar, dangers. When Robicheaux, now a police officer based in the somewhat quieter Louisiana town of New Iberia, learns that an old friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest always at the center of controversy, has been the victim of a particularly brutal assault, he knows he has to return to New Orleans to investigate, if only unofficially. What he doesn’t realize is that in doing so he is inviting into his life — and into the lives of those around him — an ancestral evil that could destroy them all.
The investigation begins innocently enough. Assisted by good friend and P.I. Clete Purcel, Robicheaux confronts the man they believe to be responsible for Dolan’s beating, a drug dealer and porno star named Gunner Ardoin. The confrontation, however, turns into a standoff as Clete ends up in jail and Robicheaux receives an ominous warning to keep out of New Orleans’ affairs.
Meanwhile, back in New Iberia, more trouble is brewing: Three local teenage girls are killed in a drunk-driving accident, the driver being the seventeen-year-old daughter of a prominent physician. Robicheaux traces the source of the liquor to one of New Iberia’s “daiquiri windows,” places that sell mixed drinks from drive-by windows. When the owner of the drive-through operation is brutally murdered, Robicheaux immediately suspects the grief-crazed father of the dead teen driver. But his assumption is challenged when the murder weapon turns up belonging to someone else.
The trouble continues when Father Jimmie asks Robicheaux to help investigate the presence of a toxic landfill near St. James Parish in New Orleans, which in turn leads to a search for the truth behind the disappearance many years before of a legendary blues musician and composer. Tying together all these seemingly disparate threads of crime is a maniacal killer named Max Coll, a brutal, brilliant, and deeply haunted hit man sent to New Orleans to finish the job on Father Dolan. Once Coll shows up, it becomes clear that Dave Robicheaux will be forced to ignore the warning to stay out of New Orleans, and he soon finds himself drawn deeper into a viper’s nest of sordid secrets and escalating violence that sets him up for a confrontation that echoes down the lonely corridors of his own unresolved past.
A masterful exploration of the troubled side of human nature and the darkest corners of the heart, and filled with the kinds of unforgettable characters that are the hallmarks of his novels, “Last Car to Elysian Fields” is James Lee Burke in top form in the kind of lush, atmospheric thriller that his fans have come to expect from the master of crime fiction.
In contrast to the tranquil beauty of Flathead Lake and the colorful summertime larch and fir unspooling across unblemished ranchland, a venomous presence lurks in the caves and hills, intent on destroying innocent lives.
First, Alafair Robicheaux is nearly killed by an arrow while hiking alone on a trail. Then Clete’s daughter, Gretchen Horowitz, whom readers met in Burke’s previous bestseller Creole Belle, runs afoul of a local cop, with dire consequences. Next, Alafair thinks she sees a familiar face following her around town — but how could convicted sadist and serial killer Asa Surrette be loose on the streets of Montana?
Surrette committed a string of heinous murders while capital punishment was outlawed in his home state of Kansas. Years ago, Alafair, a lawyer and novelist, interviewed Surrette in prison, aiming to prove him guilty of other crimes and eligible for the death penalty. Recently, a prison transport van carrying Surrette crashed and he is believed dead, but Alafair isn’t so sure.
Iry Paret's done his time — two years for manslaughter in Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary. Now the war vet and blues singer is headed to Montana, where he hopes to live clean working on a ranch owned by the father of his prison pal, Buddy Riordan. In prison, Iry tinkered with a song — “The Lost Get-Back Boogie” — that never came out quite right. Now, the Riordan family's problems hand him a new kind of trouble, with some tragic consequences. And Iry must get the tune right at last, or pay a fateful price.
Toussaint Boudreaux, a docker — hardworking and looking for a break — earns extra cash as a prize fighter. But the only break he gets lands him in gaol and then on a chain gang. Avery Broussard, wayward son of an old plantation family, loses his freedom for a cartload of Prohibition moonshine and finds himself attached to the same work camp as Boudreaux. Neither would have chosen the life — blood, sweat and tears come with the territory — but each is determined to make the best of it or find a way out. HALF OF PARADISE is a powerful novel of people from very different backgrounds who find their destinies tragically intertwined.
James Lee Burke's eagerly awaited new novel finds Detective Dave Robicheaux back in New Iberia, Louisiana, and embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his career. Seven young women in neighboring Jefferson Davis Parish have been brutally murdered. While the crimes have all the telltale signs of a serial killer, the death of Bernadette Latiolais, a high school honor student, doesn't fit: she is not the kind of hapless and marginalized victim psychopaths usually prey upon. Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, confront Herman Stanga, a notorious pimp and crack dealer whom both men despise. When Stanga turns up dead shortly after a fierce beating by Purcel, in front of numerous witnesses, the case takes a nasty turn, and Clete's career and life are hanging by threads over the abyss.
Adding to Robicheaux's troubles is the matter of his daughter, Alafair, on leave from Stanford Law to put the finishing touches on her novel. Her literary pursuit has led her into the arms of Kermit Abelard, celebrated novelist and scion of a once prominent Louisiana family whose fortunes are slowly sinking into the corruption of Louisiana's subculture. Abelard's association with bestselling ex-convict author Robert Weingart, a man who uses and discards people like Kleenex, causes Robicheaux to fear that Alafair might be destroyed by the man she loves. As his daughter seems to drift away from him, he wonders if he has become a victim of his own paranoia. But as usual, Robicheaux's instincts are proven correct and he finds himself dealing with a level of evil that is greater than any enemy he has confronted in the past.
Set against the backdrop of an Edenic paradise threatened by pernicious forces, James Lee Burke's The Glass Rainbow is already being hailed as perhaps the best novel in the Robicheaux series.
MWA Grandmaster Burke spins a tale replete with colorful prose and epic confrontations in his second novel to feature smalltown Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland (after Lay Down My Sword and Shield). An anonymous phone call leads Holland, a Korean vet who survived a POW camp, to the massacre and burial site of nine Thai women, a crime that brings FBI and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officials running. As a slew of bad guys relocated from New Orleans after Katrina grapple for advantage in new territory, mercurial killer Preacher Jack Collins finds plenty of work. Pete Flores, a possible witness to the massacre, and his girlfriend are targeted by Collins for elimination, and by the FBI for bait. Holland must protect the hapless Flores and his girl from both. Three strong female characters complement the full roster of sharply drawn lowlifes. The battle of wills and wits between Holland and Collins delivers everything Burke's fans expect.
Cajun Police Detective Dave Robicheaux knows the Sonnier family of New Iberia – there connections to the CIA, the mob, and to a former Klansman now running for state office. And he knows their past, as dark and murky as a night on the Louisiana bayou. An assassination attempt and the death of a cop draw Robicheaux into the Sonniers' dangerous web of madness, murder and incest. But Robicheaux has devils of his own. And they have come out of hiding to destroy the tormented investigator – and the two people he holds most dear.
The fourth Dave Robicheaux detective novel, featuring a volatile mix of Mafia drug-running and Cajun voodoo magic. Obsessed with revenge when his partner is killed by an escaping death-row prisoner, Robicheaux goes under cover into the sleepy, torrid depths of the New Orleans criminal world.
Three men are present when Amanda Boudreau is raped and murdered and small time hustler Tee Bobby Hulin's prints are found at the crime scene. Dave Robicheaux reckons he's innocent, and Tee Bobby pleads so, then attempts suicide in his holding cell. Why? Tee Bobby is released on bail and soon after there is a second murder. When lawyer Perry LaSalle takes on the defence of Tee Bobby, Dave knows his motives are fuelled by guilt. For Tee Bobby's grandmother was seduced by Perry's grandfather, and Amanda Boudreau's death is related to events that happened long before Tee Bobby was born…
Dave Robicheaux has spent his life confronting the age-old adage that the sins of the father pass onto the son. But what has his mother's legacy left him? Dead to him since youth, Mae Guillory has been shuttered away in the deep recesses of Dave's mind. He's lived with the fact that he would never really know what happened to the woman who left him to the devices of his whiskey-driven father. But deep down, he still feels the loss of his mother and knows the infinite series of disappointments in her life could not have come to a good end. While helping out an old friend, Dave is stunned when a pimp looks at him sideways and asks him if he is Mae Guillory's boy, the whore a bunch of cops murdered 30 years ago.
A movie crew has come to New Iberia, Louisiana, to film a Civil War epic, and star Elrod Sykes just can't seem to keep his lavender Cadillac on the road. Under threat of a drunk driving charge, he offers Detective Dave Robicheaux information in exchange for leniency: he leads him to the skeletal remains of a man whose murder Robicheaux witnessed in the summer of 1957. When the FBI arrives in the person of agent Rosie Gomez, Robicheaux must form a new partnership that challenges how he views himself and his local community. But it is only when Robicheaux makes the acquaintance of the legendary Confederate cavalry officer General John Bell Hood in the mist of the bayou that he begins to understand that 'war is never over', and that the battle rages on…
No one captures the sultry, humid feel of New Orleans quite like James Lee Burke does in his Dave Robicheaux novels. He understands the tactile nature of the air when the temperature and the moisture rise in the summer South, when “the air [grows] hazy with humidity and even your lightest clothes [stick] to your body like wet paper.” Like many regional mystery writers, Burke’s crime stories are as much about the place as about the people. Southern Lousiana and its bayous and rivers provide the lush background for these often dark and violent tales.
In this second novel in the series, Robicheaux has retired from the New Orleans PD and is working as a fishing guide with his wife. While out on the Gulf trawling for shrimp, the pair see a small plane go down in the water, and arrive there in time only to rescue one of the passangers, a small girl. This good deed drags Robicheaux and Annie back into a world of crime and violence that has tragic consequences for each of them. Dave Robicheaux is a strong addition to the ranks of damaged heroes who populate much of contemporary crime writing. Burke’s understanding of, and obvious affection for, his settings shines through the pages of all of his stories. These tales of hot temperatures and hot tempers are just the thing to warm a cold winter day.
Tight plotting, Solid Finish
Because he’s a damn good writer James Lee Burke knows how to keep a plot going from start to finish with no loose ends or out-of-the-blue surprises that amateurishly attempt to explain and finish off a narrative. He easily weaves several ancillary situations into the story line of The Tin Roof Blowdown. These are of interest on their own, but more importantly they serve to expand and add often curious layers to the main show that centers around the eye of mayhem left behind by a pair of hurricanes.
I bring this up since I just finished reading a book by Jeffrey Deaver titled The Cold Moon. The bad guy, a most interesting sociopath called The Watchmaker who is a brilliant killer with machinations of Machiavellian stature, is the author of a poem about a cold moon, so one would suppose that he would figure prominently in the denouement of the novel. He doesn’t. Not at all. He escapes from the cops and vanishes from the book with nearly one-hundred pages left, obviously setting a not-so-subtle stage for a return in another Deaver effort. This strikes me as venal artifice by a writer who certainly has reached a point of financial and critical security where such shenanigans are unnecessary and beneath him.
None of this fakery for Burke. From the first book I read by him years ago, The Neon Rain to others that included Black Cherry Blues, The Lost Get-Back Boogie, Jolie Blon’s Bounce, and now this one, Burke has played it straight telling his stories and making sure loose ends are tied up when the last page is read. And like I said he can write.
I said he smiled. That’s not quite right. Jude shined the world on and slipped its worst punches and in a fight knew how to swallow his blood and never let people know he was hurt. He had his Jewish mother’s narrow eyes and chestnut hair, and he combed it straight back in a hum, like a character in a 1930s movie. Somehow he reassured others that the earth was a good place, that the day was a fine one, and that good things were about to happen to all of us.
Tight, succinct descriptions like the one above or similarly structured vignettes connect and in doing so glide the reader from scene to scene. None of this is as easy as Burke makes it look. That’s called skill. He’s got it in spades.
But this is to be expected of a man who’s written more than twenty-five novels, a man who divides his time between seemingly disparate locations – Missoula, Montana and New Iberia, Louisiana. Living in these two places seems to give him an expanded and sympathetic view of the world and those of us who bump and grind our way through it making his characters and their short comings easily assimilated, allowing the reader to experience sympathy and often empathy.
The setting of The Tin Roof Blowdown is largely post-apocalypse Louisiana following the devastation wrought by first Hurricane Katrina then Rita. The landscape has been reduced to a naturally nuked wasteland where murder, rape and theft are the order of the day perpetrated by both punks run amok and many cops. Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux is deployed to New Orleans, the once grand city now reduced to a feudal state without electrical power, clean water, food or any sense of societal order. Bloated bodies – humans, cats, dogs – float in flooded streets or lie tangled in downed, shattered trees. In this chaos Robicheaux must locate two serial rapists, a morphine-addicted priest, and a vigilante who quite possibly is more dangerous than the thugs looting the city and shooting at rescue helicopters overhead. Based on past books, just another day at the office for Robicheaux. Burke’s got so much going on here that it would be easy for him to inadvertently confuse the reader, if not himself, beyond salvation allowing the book to devolve into a miasma of none-related tales – a rag-tag collection of short stories pretending to be a novel.
Again his skill and also confidence as a writer never allows this to happen. Not even close. Each section and chapter advances the drama logically and without undo cliff hangings. A good example is when a killer stalking the detective’s daughter is spotted outside a cabin.
Out among the willows, I saw the solitary fisherman lean down in his boat and pick up something from the bottom. He knocked his hat off his head to give himself better vision and raised the rifle to his shoulder. I could not make out the features of his face, but the moon had started to rise and I saw the light gleam on his bald head inside the shadows.
I was already out the screen door and running down the slope when he let off the first round.
So many mystery writers would then wander off for a chapter or several on another tangent leaving a person wondering what’s going on back at the bayou. Not Burke. He again displays his confidence by moving directly forward with the above scene in the next chapter. He knows that each element in his books can stand on its own and doesn’t need the tired device of leaving the reader up in the air for pages on end to maintain interest in the overall narrative arc.
And Burke slips in sharp, humorous observations on the human condition throughout the book like this one following an argument between Robicheaux and his wife, a former nun.
I just went outside and started the truck, my face hot, my ears ringing with the harshness of our exchange. The yard had fallen into shadow and cicadas were droning in the trees, like a bad headache that won’t go away. Just as I was backing into the street, regretting my words, trying to accept Molly’s anger and hurt feelings, she came out on the gallery and waved good-bye.
That’s what happens when you marry nuns.
For those who’ve not yet read Burke, The Tin Roof Blowdown is a great place to start. For those who are already fans of his, this mystery is merely one more top-notch effort by a most talented author.
Imagine Philip Marlowe sans the cigarettes and in AA. Put him in Louisiana and jump forward 50 years or so and you've got David Robicheaux, a tough-talking detective with the same soft spot as his prototype for troublesome women and for delving into places into which he probably has no business. New Iberia, Louisiana, perfectly rivals Marlowe's L.A. for its grit and corruption and dames who'll turn a good guy bad.
James Lee Burke's 11th Robicheaux book, Sunset Limited, is a twisted mystery that at times becomes almost byzantine in its attempt to keep disparate characters and narratives wound in a cohesive story line. But Burke's writing is so stunning that all is forgiven as you become immersed in the tale, which meshes past and present to uncover the secret of a decades-old murder.
Forty years ago, a local labor leader was crucified in a crime that remains unsolved. Now, his daughter-Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Megan Flynn-returns to New Iberia. With a seemingly insignificant remark to Robicheaux, she begins a chain of events that lead right back to her father's death. New Iberia, in some sense, is frozen in time as the age-old problems of race and class weave their way into the mystery, complicating Robicheaux's discovery of not only the original crime, but the wealth of murders that spring up along the way. Add in the Chinese mob, corrupt policemen, and a Hollywood film shoot, and the stage is set.
Burke's forte is his ability to create characters so evil they're liable to get you up in the night to check in your closet and under your bed. The players-both good and bad-are characterized more by their flaws than their attributes, giving everyone a wicked sheen. The book isn't overly gory (although short descriptions can be rather graphic), but everyone has a dark side, emphasizing the noir-ish tones of the novel. His writing is powerful, mixing tender landscapes ("[W]e dropped through clouds that were pooled with fire in the sunrise and came in over biscuit-colored hills dotted with juniper and pine and pinyon trees…") with dead-on, cutting descriptions ("His face was tentacled with a huge purple-and-strawberry birthmark, so that his eyes looked squeezed inside a mask") and the camp dialogue of Chandler ("Evil doesn't have a zip code"). Oddly, these sundry elements blend seamlessly, allowing you to overlook tenuous connections and occasionally confusing turns.
In the summer of 1958, Dave Robicheaux and his half-brother Jimmie are just out of high school. Jimmie and Dave get work with an oil company, laying out rubber cables in the bays and mosquito-infested swamps all along the Louisiana-Texas coastline. They spend their off time at Galveston Island, fishing at night on the jetties, the future kept safely at bay, the past drifting off somewhere behind them. But on the Fourth of July, change approaches in the form of Ida Durbin, a sweet-faced young woman with a lovely voice and a mandolin. Jimmie falls instantly in love with her. But Ida's not free to love – she's a prostitute, in hock to a brutal man called Kale, who won't let her go. Jimmie agrees to meet Ida at the bus depot, ready for the road to Mexico. But Ida never shows. Dave and Jimmie want to believe she skipped town, but they know, deep down, that Ida Durbin never got to leave. That was many years ago – before Dave Robicheaux began his long odyssey through bars and drunk tanks and skin joints of every stripe. Before the Philippines and Vietnam. Now, an older, well-worn Dave walks into Baptist Hospital to visit a man called Troy Bordelon, who wants to free himself of a dark secret before he dies. A bully and a sadist, he has a lot to confess to – but he chooses to talk about a young girl, a prostitute who he glimpsed briefly as a kid, bloodied and beaten, tied to a chair in his uncle's house. Dave realises he can't let the past go. Ida's killers are still out there. So he begins his journey into the past – back to the summer of 1958 and a girl called Ida Durbin.