Book Review: The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke

Posted November 13, 2019 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 6 Comments

Book Review: The New Iberia Blues 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.

The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke
Genres: Thriller, Mystery
on January 8, 2019
Pages: 465
Format: eBook
Source: the library

Buy on Amazon
Also by this author: Robicheaux

Twenty-second in the Dave Robicheaux mystery thriller series and revolving around an alcoholic detective in Louisiana.

My Take

Geez, I am so glad I got this mess read and reviewed. Working up this review gave me such a headache — and reminded me of the headache I got in trying to understand this story.

I’ve loved the Robicheaux series up to this point. And, lordy, The New Iberia Blues was…a mess. An incredibly confusing mishmash of too many stories. It took three times to get through this. Three times I got this out of the library with my renewing it to the max. And I sure hope this isn’t the trail Burke plans to follow in future Dave Robicheaux stories…actually, I hope this is the end, ’cause this is so bad.

It probably didn’t help that Burke is using third person global subjective point-of-view, so we hear from most everybody. It felt as if every character in here had their own troubles, and Burke intended to milk every one of them. I’m sure they must all meld together somehow, but that headache induced by trying to figure this all out? Yeah, I simply don’t want to make sense of it. I want my headache to go away!

Most of the characters have heartbreaking backstories, the good guys and the bad guys. Burke definitely kept me wondering about the guilt or innocence of many of them! Well, except for Butterworth: “if Butterworth had a bottom, no one knew what it was.” Burke’s one long paragraph description is enough to put you off the guy for life. I reckon the point of that was to keep the reader confused. It worked. Stirring up more confusion is probably why Burke included that background for Bailey.

What was with Alafair’s fascination with Wexler? I never understood that. I don’t understand how Frank Dubois plays in to this. Yeah, I read the ending. And I still don’t get it. Ah, well, it’s probably that psychotic mindset that I can’t understand.

Huh. The New Iberia PD must be pretty desperate for cops, what with hiring a school teacher with a graduate degree in psychology…who has 18 whole months working as a New Orleans police dispatcher! Her employment is, however, more believable than Dave’s fascination with her. That I did not get at all.

Jesus, there are times when that thin blue line needs to split. Just as that line that keeps bad doctors working needs to get more flexible. Maybe what we need are more Smileys…

Ya know, for all the action, I’d have to say this was a character-driven plot with a pace that was agonizing in its complications. And while I know it’s no longer considered PC to write dialect, I do appreciate Burke’s phonetic spellings to pinpoint the social class of his characters.

The best I got out of this was that “every literary plot is either in the Bible, Greek mythology, or Elizabethan theater.” My job here is done…lol

“Anything you get with luck isn’t worth owning…”

The Story

Desmond is convinced this film will be brilliant, and he and his partners are going broke. It doesn’t help that Dave Robicheaux keeps busting in and interrupting filming.

Just because people are dying…

The Characters

A recovering alcoholic, Detective Dave “Pops” Robicheaux, thrice widowed, has an adopted daughter, Alafair “Baby Squanto”, who is both a lawyer and a successful novelist. Snuggs is their cat and Mon Tee Coon is a pet raccoon. Molly, had been a Maryknoll nun in El Salvador and Guatemala, and then married Dave. She’s dead now. Bootsie Mouton was his second wife, lost to lupus. Annie was his first wife, lost to men who killed her. Big Aldous had been Dave’s father, a man who couldn’t read or write and could barely speak English.

The self-destructive Clete Purcel is a mess but totally loyal with his own sense of honor. A former cop, he screwed up big time and now makes a living as a private investigator. He lives at the Teche Motel when in New Iberia. Gretchen Horowitz is Clete’s assassin daughter. Um, she was. Now she’s a documentary filmmaker.

The New Iberia PD
A former teacher, Bailey Ribbons is Dave’s new partner. Sheriff Helen Hoileau is Dave’s boss. Deputy Sean McClain has been a cop for seven months. Cormac Watts is the coroner. Deputy Axel Devereaux is a corrupt misogynistic racist pig connected with the AB. Deputy Frenchie Lautrec is a friend of Deveraux’s and in business with him. Another one is Madman Muntz. Jody Dubisson is plainclothes. Deputy Ben Theriot keeps an eye on evidence storage.

Alice Mouton is a nurse at Iberia General. Frank Rizzo is a former arson investigator and a friend of Dave’s in New Orleans. Felicity and Perpetua are little girls in pinafores. I suspect they’re also ghosts. Stan is plainclothes in another area. Flo is a waitress at a restaurant. Walter Scanlon is a former CIA agent Dave knows. Cato Carmouche had been a midget who got fired out of a cannon for a living until a bad aim gave him a facility with numbers. An ability which eventually led to identifying grifters and card counters. There’s a captain of the West Hollywood Station of the LA Sheriff’s Department who is a friend of Dave’s.

Bailey has a calico cat named Maxwell Gato. Boyd had been Bailey’s stock car driving husband. Randy “Bogalusa Flash” Armstrong had known Boyd. Greta was the Indian woman with whom Bailey had shared a trailer back in those days.

The brilliant Desmond Cormier was born a redbone, a mixed-blood Indian on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation, in the worst conditions you can imagine. He went on to become a successful film director with a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination. He’s back and living at Cypremort Point. Antoine Butterworth is his friend, an actor, a screenwriter, and a producer. Lou Wexler is a screenwriter and producer who is helping to produce Desmond’s film. Zeb is an actor in Desmond’s current film. Ennis Patout might have been Desmond’s father; Corina Cormier had been Desmond’s mother for one whole day.

Lucinda Arceneaux worked for the Innocence Project, getting people off death row; she is the missing, adopted, daughter of a Free Will Baptist preacher. Lloyd is a bartender in a blues bar where Bella Delahoussaye sings. Bella has a son in jail, Harold; he can hardly walk. Devereaux pimps out women, including Hilary Bienville. Skip Dubisson is a bartender in North Lafayette. Harvey is another bartender.

Hugo Tillinger is an escaped inmate, incarcerated for the arson murder of his wife and daughter. Travis Lebeau was in the same prison and had been sold by the Aryan Brotherhood.

Chester “Smiley” Wimple is an assassin who gets even for people who can’t defend themselves, a result of the treatment he got as an orphan in Mexico. Marco and Jerry “Gee” Gemoats, a pair of go-to mechanics, are from Miami. Dora Thibodaux is a hooker. Seymour was the night clerk. Jaime O’Banion is a psychotic button man from New Orleans. Smiley’d like to do him like he did Tony Nemo.

Joe Molinari had been a janitor at the Iberia Parish courthouse, and that’s as exciting as his life gets. Convicted of rolling gays in the Castro District, Spider Dupree had been AB. He knows the truth about Frank Dubois, the man who had the air crushed out of his lungs in jail. It’s more than we’ll ever learn. Tee Boy Ladrine had been a guard at that jail; seems he can tie his shoes if he has a diagram.

Spaceman” had been a black medic in Dave and Clete’s unit.

The Cover and Title

The cover finds a canoeist in blue paddling a red canoe through the greens of the bayou. All the text is distressed with an info blurb at the top in white. The author’s name is below this in yellow with the title below that in white. At the very bottom is the series information in yellow.

The title is too accurate, for Dave (and I) are suffering The New Iberia Blues.

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6 responses to “Book Review: The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke

  1. Stormi

    Man, that sucks that you have liked this series up till now. Always has to be one in the bunch that isn’t very good I guess.

  2. the title made me curious, but when i got here the cover made me say, oh yeah. then i saw your review. sorry it didn’t work for you and kudos to your persistence in finishing it

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