Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

Book Review: Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

"Creole Belle" is the 19th in the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke. Burke stands alone for me as the only novelist with a recurring protagonist that has not come to rely upon formulaic stories to keep a character alive. And Robicheaux is as complex a character as any I’ve encountered in American fiction.

Robicheaux is a Vietnam veteran with recurrent nightmares, a recovering alcoholic, a disgraced former homicide detective with the New Orleans police department, a deputy with the New Iberia sheriff department who doesn’t always follow the rules and a survivor of personal tragedy. He is in constant battle with his demons.  One constant in the stories is his former NOPD partner and best friend Clete Purcell, his adopted daughter Alafair who was rescued from a plane crash, and his three legged pet raccoon Tripod.

Burke writes with elegiac prose evocative of the heat and humidity, the smells and aura, the good and the evil of the Louisiana bayou. This is not Hemingway. Burke’s books are lyrical and descriptive and pull the reader into Robicheaux’s world. His moral compass is strongly focused on protecting the underdog, the loser, those who have been raised in poverty without a safety net, those who have no voice.  The rich have preyed upon those less fortunate. Money talks.  Money buys the dirty cops.  Murders among the underclass are not worth investigating.  Despite the federal victory in the War Between the States, in some areas very little has changed.

In "Creole Belle", Dave Robicheaux is recuperating in hospital from gunshot injuries. While in a morphine stupor, he is been visited by a singer known as Tee Jolie Melton, who left him with an IPod including songs nobody else can hear. H learns she has been missing for several weeks. When her sister Blue is found dead, frozen in ice floating on the bayou, Dave and Clete embark on a mission to find her killer.

As with all of Burke’s novels, the plot is convoluted but tightly woven with no clue as to how the matter will end until it ends. If you appreciate poetic prose that envelope you into the place and time, then give "Creole Belle" a try.  You just may want to go back and start at the beginning afterwards.  Even 20 years after its publication, I still have an emotional reaction to “Into the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead”. Don’t rely on the movie version, which was a shallow version of the original.  Read the book

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