Book Review: Robicheaux by James Lee Burke

February 9, 2018 Book Reviews 2

Book Review: Robicheaux  by James Lee Burke

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Robicheaux by James Lee Burke
Genres: Mystery, Detective
Pages: 464
on January 2, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Twenty-first in the Dave Robicheaux detective mystery series about a detective on the wagon, one who has a close circle of friends. Set in New Iberia just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s been two years in Dave’s life since Light of the World, 20.

My Take

Publishing-wise, it’s been about four-and-a-half years since Light of the World, and I think I read somewhere that Burke only brought Dave Robicheaux back due to popular demand (and probably pressure from his publisher, lucky us).

And it’s a pip of a story with characters on the edge — look at what Dave goes through! I suspect my itch about why Robicheaux is back is also part of why I was so on edge throughout this story, wondering if it would be another four years or…

The story is told from Dave’s perspective in first person protagonist point-of-view, which may have contributed to my confusion about some of the “opposing” characters. There were some complex “bad” guys who veer from the best to the worst, and sometimes in the same person. Knotty, tricksy, convoluted… But using that first person POV meant Dave couldn’t speak for them, and I couldn’t decide which way to swing on them. Some were simply all bad and others Burke left hanging with possibilities. I do wish Burke had been more twisty about Jimmy, and Dave’s liking for him.

It’s a mass of conflicts (including in my own head, as I was fearful of Burke taking matters into his own hands!!) with Dave mourning Molly, missing Alafair and Tripod, worrying about Clete, and generally just slogging the days away. Well, to be honest, it is also Burke’s writing that has me confused, as he has characters contradicting themselves all over the place.

Dave’s character is more real than most characters get: a recovering alcoholic, a loyal and decent man, and one willing to break the law to keep it. He’s definitely a man I’d want on my side. Even, okay, even Clete, the best friend at the center of most of the conflict, with his bad luck and worse. There are several paragraphs Burke sprinkles in about Purcel…yeah…I definitely want him on my side. Clete is so like and unlike Dave, and they make the perfect pair.

Jimmy and Levon were the most abstruse, each presenting as a decent person with a whole ‘nother side to ‘em. Rowena was completely whacked, and the relationship between her and her husband doesn’t make a whole lotta sense. They could be an interesting set of secondary characters in the future.

Robicheaux is Burke’s platform to rail against bad men and women who work as cops; against a general American conflict “between a sense of past grandeur and a legacy of shame” as well as those who romanticize war while Burke writes of the real horrors of war; how easily we fall under the spell of men with a good sense of public relations, money, reputation, or a combination thereof; of the human need for revenge…of racism and gender discrimination.

It’s an interesting point about cops and lowlifes being so similar, as they share so much of the same culture. I reckon if you intend to be successful in closing cases, you have to know how they think. Know who they are. Even the corrupt Fat Tony Nemo has his cop counterpart! God knows, Dave scares me. He’s such a decent man, and yet he goes out of his way to court trouble. And he really lets himself go in this one…shudder…

There’s a side conflict with the murders of those eight women in Jeff Davis Parish from Glass Rainbow, 18. Burke building in a future for us, er, I mean, for Dave Robicheaux to continue on.

Niggles-wise, it always seems as if Robicheaux is leaping to conclusions, since Burke doesn’t give us much to work with. And there’s a loose thread flailing around in here about Clete’s markers. Just a niggle that can only go away (I hope) in #22.

Otherwise, well, it proves that every man has his breaking point.

The Story

Caught up in his recurrent nightmares about Vietnam, the Confederate soldiers drifting in his waking visions, and the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Molly, Dave’s thoughts drift from one irreconcilable memory to the next.

It’s a situation that plunges him to the dark side in his battle with alcoholism, and he wakes to discover he may have committed the homicide he’s investigating, the death of the man who caused Molly’s death.

It’s too possible that Dave did it, for he has few memories of that night.

The Characters

Detective Dave “Streak” Robicheaux, a recovering alcoholic who sees the ghosts of Confederate soldiers, is grieving and lonely in the house his father built. Alafair is the daughter Dave and Annie, his second wife, adopted (Heaven’s Prisoners, 2); she’s a successful novelist these days. Molly had been his third wife. Tripod had been their three-legged pet raccoon years ago. Mon Tee Coon is sniffing around. Snuggs, their white cat, is still around.

Clete Purcel, Dave’s partner at the NOPD when they were known as the Bobbsey Twins of Homicide, is in trouble. He works as a private detective and collects skips for Nig Rosewater and Wee Willie Bimstine in New Orleans. In Creole Belle, 19, Clete met the daughter he didn’t know he had, Gretchen Horowitz.

The Iberia Sheriff’s Department is…
…where Dave works for Sheriff Helen Soileau. Detective Spade Labiche is a corrupt cop (that’s his good side) from Miami–Dade who just started in the department. “Top” is a red-haired patrolman.

Lala Segretti is the prosecutor. The Honorable Bienville Tomey don’t take no disrepect.

The Jeff Davis Sheriff’s Department is…
…where Detective Sherry Picard works, and she’s in charge of the torture-murder case in her district.

The St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Department is…
…where Deputy Jude McVane lurks.

Levon Broussard and his crazy(!) Australian artist wife, Rowena, live up the way. He’s a famous author. They’ve got three live oaks — Mosby, Forrest, and Longstreet — registered with the national conservation society. Lieutenant Robert S. Broussard with the Eighth Louisiana Calvary owned the sword that ostensibly started this story’s conflict. Dr. Melvin LeBlanc is their family doctor; he became a Quaker after he came home from the first Iraqi war. Yet another knotty character.

Jimmy Nightingale is the requisite “old-money aristocracy” for this story. There’s a lot more that’s said about this man, but the public side is the casinos he runs and the gangsters with whom he consorts. The cold Emmeline Nightingale is some sort of relative — half-sister? cousin? — who works as Jimmy’s secretary/bookkeeper. Swede Jensen works for Emmeline as her driver. Birl Wooster was a gunbull at Angola back in the day; now he works security for Jimmy. Jody Weinberger is a security guard at the casino.

T.J. Dartez is the man who hit Molly’s pickup. Babette Latiolais is a young black woman who waitresses at a bar. Carolyn Ardoin is a social worker in Jennings. Herb Smith is another social worker, making a delivery. Baby Cakes Babineau is a witness.

The manipulating, racist Bobby Earl had his heyday and is still trying to make hay. Kevin Penny is a pimp and meth dealer whose son, Homer, was removed from his “care”. Miss Birdie flew the Miami–to–New Orleans route with Chester. Mohammed is a taxi driver. Chester “Smiley” Wimple likes kids, respects women, and hates being dissed. Loretta is a young girl whose mama works for the Vidrines.

New Orleans
Fat Tony Nemo, aka, Tony the Nose, Tony Squid, or Tony Nine Ball, is a disgusting man, physically and morally, with his fat, pudgy fingers in all kinds of pies, including movie production. Mabel is his secretary. JuJu Ladrine and the short, nasty Maximo Soza are Tony’s bodyguards.

Whitey Zeroski is the dumbest white person in the city and is currently employed to do repossessions. Pookie the Possum Domingue is an informant. I think I remember Mack as the man who broke up Dave’s parents’ marriage. Hey, it’s been seven years since I first started this series, cut me a break *grin* Tony Cardo was a childhood friend of Purcel’s from back in the day. The Jeff Davis Eight case refers to events in Glass Rainbow. Pierre Louviere was an artist in the French Quarter who died horribly.

The Cover and Title

The cover is an out-of-focus watercolor-like sunset of grayed-out blues, oranges, and yellow lurking over the town, an almost-silhouette of three-story buildings lit-up and lining the right side of the cover with Dave facing away from us from his shoulderblades up, in his shirt-sleeves. An info blurb in white is at the top with a distressed white font for the author’s name centered just above Dave’s head. The title is in the same distressed font, in a golden gilt at the bottom…a metaphor perhaps for a man tarnished by life?

The title brings the focus back to Dave Robicheaux, his nightmares, his conflicts, his loyalties.

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