Burning Angel (Dave Robicheaux Series #8)by James Lee Burke
At the center of Burning Angel is Sonny Boy Marsallus, a fixer, a gambler, a lender of money to prostitutes who are trying to leave the life. But since Prohibition, the Giacano family has locked up the action in New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. When things get hot for Sonny Boy, he hightails it south of the border for parts unknown in El Salvador and… See more details below
At the center of Burning Angel is Sonny Boy Marsallus, a fixer, a gambler, a lender of money to prostitutes who are trying to leave the life. But since Prohibition, the Giacano family has locked up the action in New Orleans and its surrounding parishes. When things get hot for Sonny Boy, he hightails it south of the border for parts unknown in El Salvador and Guatemala. When Sonny resurfaces in New Orleans, Detective Dave Robicheaux of the Iberia Parish sheriff's office couldn't be more surprised - that is, not until Sonny passes him a mysterious notebook for safekeeping that seems to contain dark secrets about his activities in Latin America. Robicheaux must wrestle with secrets closer to home as well when his help is enlisted by the Fontenot family, descendants of sharecroppers, whose claim to land they've lived on for almost one hundred years is jeopardized. Who wants the land so badly? And what of the longtime, clandestine affair between Moleen Bertrand, lord of the manor, and Ruthie Jean Fontenot, now reputed to be a local madam? As Dave determines to find out who's honing in on the Bertrand spread, he puts himself in increasing peril at the hands of local mobsters and a hired assassin with a shady past that intersects with that of Sonny Boy Marsallus.
At once engrossing and ... convincing."Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post
Read an Excerpt
HER hair is curly and gold on the pillow, her skin white in the heat lightning that trembles beyond the pecan trees outside the bedroom window. The night is hot and breathless, the clouds painted like horsetails against the sky; a peal of thunder rumbles out an the Gulf like an apple rolling around in the bottom of a wood barrel, and the first raindrops ping against the window fan. She sleeps on her side, and the sheet molds her thigh, the curve of her hip, her breast. In the flicker of the heat lightning the sun freckles on her bare shoulder look like brown flaws in sculpted marble.
Then a prizing bar splinters the front door out of the jamb, and two men burst inside the house in heavy shoes, their pump shotguns at port arms. One is a tall Haitian, the other a Latin whose hair hangs off his head in oiled ringlets. They stand at the foot of the double bed in which she sleeps alone, and do not speak. She awakes with her mouth open, her eyes wide and empty of meaning. Her face is still warm from a dream, and she cannot separate sleep from the two men who stare at her without speaking. Then she sees them looking at each other and aim their shotguns point-blank at her chest. Her eyes film and she calls out my name like a wet bubble bursting in her throat. The sheet is twisted in her hands; she holds it against her breasts as though it could protect her from twelve-gauge deer slugs and double-aught buckshot.
They begin shooting, and the room seems to explode with smoke and flame from their shotgun barrels, with shell wadding, mattress stuffing, splinters gouged out of the bedstead, torn lampshades, flying glass. The two killers aremethodical. They have taken out the sportsman's plug in their shotguns so they can load five rounds in the magazine, and they keep firing and ejecting the smoking hulls an the floor until their firing pins snap empty. Then they reload with the calmness of men who might have juststood up in a blind and fired at a formation of ducks overhead.
The sheet is torn, drenched with her blood, embedded in her wounds. The men have gone now, and I sink to my, knees by my wife and kiss her sightless eyes, run my hands over her hair and wan face, put her fingers in my mouth. A solitary drop of her blood runs down the shattered headboard and pools on my skin. A bolt of lightning explodes in an empty field behind the house. The inside of my head is filled with a wet, sulphurous smell, and again I hear my name rise like muffled, trapped air released from the sandy bottom of a pond.
It was four in the morning on a Saturday and raining hard when I awoke from the dream in a West Baton Rouge motel. I sat on the side of the bed in my underwear and tried to rub the dream out of my face, then I used the bathroom and came back and sat on the side ofthe bed again in the dark.
First light was still two hours away, but I knew I would not sleep again. I put on my raincoat and hat and drove in my pickup truck to an all-night café that occupied one side of a clapboard roadhouse. The rain clattered on my truck cab, and the wind was blowing strong Out of the southwest, across the Atchafalaya swamp, whipping the palm and Oak trees by the highway. West Baton Rouge, which begins at the Mississippi River, has always been a seedy area of truck stops, marginal gambling joints, Negro and blue-collar bars. To the east you can see the lighted girders of the Earl K. Long Bridge, plumes of smoke rising from the oil refineries, the state capitol building silhouetted in the rain. Baton Rouge is a green town full of oak trees, parks, and lakes, and the thousands of lights on the refineries and chemical plants are regarded as a testimony to financial security rather than a sign of industrial blight. But once you drive west across the metal grid of the bridge and thump down on the old cracked four-lane, you're in a world that caters to the people of the Atchafalaya basin -- Cajuns, redbones, roustabouts, pipeliners, rednecks whose shrinking piece of American geography is identified only by a battered pickup, a tape deck playing Waylon, and a twelve-pack of Jax.
The rain spun in the yellow arc lights over the café parking lot. It was empty inside, except for a fat Negro woman whom I could see through the service window in the kitchen, and a pretty, redheaded waitress in her early twenties, dressed in a pink uniform with her hair tied up on her freckled neck. She was obviously tired, but she was polite and smiled at me when she took my order, and I felt a sense of guilt, almost shame, at my susceptibility and easy fondness for a young woman's smile. Because if you're forty-nine and unmarried or a widower or if you've simply chosen to live alone, you're easily flattered by a young woman's seeming attention to you, and you forget that it is often simply a deference to your age.
I ordered a chicken-fried steak and a cup of coffee and listened to Jimmy Clanton's recording of "Just a Dream" that came from the jukebox next door. Through the open doorway that gave onto the empty dance floor, I could see a half-dozen people at the bar against the far wall. I watched a man my age, with waved blond hair, drink hisI whiskey down to the ice, point to the glass for the bartender to refill it, then rise from...
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I am so intrigued with the series of Dave Robicheaux novels that my wife and I leave in 2 days to visit New Iberia for a week. James Lee creates such a vivid picture of the countryside and the people in all his novels that we have to see it for ourselves.
I sometimes wonder why I enjoy James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series? I mean, Dave seems to be a pretty decent guy, and he has a nice family. However, it seems that virtually everyone that Dave knows is through his law enforcement profession, and excepting the minority who hold a badge, they come off as slimy untrustworthy lowlifes that I would not want to spend any personal time getting to know. Then, after completing the next one in the series, I remember why I do it – because Burke is one h-ll of a storyteller. Burning Angel has a few intertwining mysteries running through it – or, are they merely separate aspects of the same conspiracy? (No spoilers, I leave this to the reader to determine for his or herself.) As mentioned, I don't like most of the supporting characters. I don't like the way our lead character acts when he's around these other characters, either. BUT … when I get to the end, I think “wow – that was a pretty decent story”. RATING: 4.5 stars, rounded down to 4 stars.