A prince of the non sequitur, crime novelist James Lee Burke weaves fragments of dialogue into a poetry of machismo, as if real standup guys can't be bothered with the mundane etiquette of conversation. The effect is one of lucid beauty, a staccato shorthand owing equal debt to Hemingway and Hammett. In Cadillac Jukebox, Burke's quixotic detective Dave Robicheaux is hellbent on retribution, so caution is more expendable than usual. When his superior in the New Iberia Sheriff's Office orders him to Mexico to look up "a priest in some shithole down in the interior," Robicheaux asks, "We have money for this?" The reply: "Bring me a sombrero."
Offsetting such terse interaction is Burke's luxurious prose. Sending Robicheaux on a slow drive through that dead nowhere zone south of the border, Burke writes, "The sun rose higher in an empty cobalt sky. We crossed a flat plain with sloughs and reeds by the roadside and stone mountains razored against the horizon and Indian families who seemed to have walked enormous distances from no visible site in order to beg by the road. . . We passed an abandoned iron works dotted with broken windows, and went through villages where the streets were no more than crushed rock and the doors to all the houses were painted either green or blue."
Like his contemporary Walter Mosley, Burke is invigorating the crime fiction series at a time when many of the genre's heavy hitters -- Grafton, Parker -- have grown lazy and stale. Cadillac Jukebox is Burke's ninth outing with Robicheaux, a survivor of Vietnam, the bottle and more than a few personal tragedies. Here Robicheaux stumbles into a bloody mess involving mobbed-up denizens of the Louisiana bayou, the 30-year-old murder of a cherished civil rights leader, a long-ago betrayal of teenage love and an oily southern liberal with his eye on the governor's office. If Robicheaux's honor is sketched a tad too preciously, at least his interior life is of equal weight to the chaos raining around him. Robicheaux is a moral force as rugged as they come, even or especially when the proverbial quest for justice falls short of its goal. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
PW gave a starred review to this story of revenge, ambition and blackmail, the ninth Dave Robicheaux mystery. (Aug.)
Is Dave Robicheaux mellowing with old age? Burke's latest addition to his popular series featuring the bayou detective (e.g., Burning Angel, Hyperion, 1995) is a formulaic romp with all the elements fans have come to expect: A convoluted plot fueled by violent but excruciatingly polite characters, racial sins of the past that bedevil the residents of the New South, wonderful dialog with occasional indecipherable street slang, and numerous descriptions of mouth-watering Cajun food. Robicheaux, who here suspects that the alleged killer of a revered Civil Rights figure is innocent, is opposed on all fronts, most aggressively by a liberal candidate for governer of Louisiana and the candidate's sexy but dangerous wife. Robicheaux is strangely low-key, however, and readers who expect the traditional violent outburst wherein Robicheaux kicks the stuffing out of some deserving creep will be puzzled by his seemingly minor role in the action. An anticlimactic ending further diminishes the novel's appeal. Still, Burke has built a huge fan base and larger public libraries should probably stock a copy. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/95.]Mark Annichiarico, "Library Journal"
"I think I've learned not to grieve on the world's ways, at least not when spring is at hand." That is the last sentence a regular reader of James Lee Burke's masterful Dave Robicheaux novels would expect to hear from the mouth of the series' Cajun police detective hero. After all, the central theme in all the novels in the series up to this point has been Robicheaux's obstinate, heroic, yet arrogant insistence on not only grieving but violently rejecting the world's ways. The tension in these novels has always come from Robicheaux's determined adherence, in the face of overwhelming external pressure, to the simple pleasures of the Cajun way of life--food, family, close contact with the elemental rhythms of the southern Louisiana bayou. In fact, that tension was so inevitable, so finally predictable, that the previous installment or two, while as technically accomplished as any of their predecessors, had begun to seem somehow diminished. That all changes here, as Robicheaux, faced again with a crime that has far-reaching personal and symbolic meaning, must accept the erosion of his world and thereby learn to cherish the transitory moments that memory and human connection continue to offer him
It all starts with the escape from prison of a white-trash dirt farmer convicted of killing a black civil-rights activist. The ensuing reverberations affect everything from Louisiana gubernatorial politics to Robicheaux's marriage, but at the heart of the conflict is the detective's battle with his own personal demons: Will this case offer yet another opportunity to lose control, to jeopardize loved ones in an effort to take a stand against onrushing modernity? The answer is yes and no, but in that refreshing ambiguity--hopeful yet melancholic--lies a remarkable rebirth for a series that, unlike so many others, has managed to absorb commercial success without sacrificing quality.
"Cadillac Jukebox is pure Burke--equal parts hardboiled action, lush descriptions of the natural world, and dialogue that leaps from the page."
"Terrific reading. Few writers in America can evoke a region as well as Burke."
"If you haven't read Burke, get going."
From the Publisher
"Cadillac Jukebox is pure Burkeequal parts hardboiled action, lush descriptions of the natural world, and dialogue that leaps from the page."People Magazine"
Terrific reading. Few writers in America can evoke a region as well as Burke."Philadelphia Inquirer"
If you haven't read Burke, get going."Playboy