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Swan Peak (Dave Robicheaux Series #17)
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Swan Peak (Dave Robicheaux Series #17)

4.2 40
by James Lee Burke

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Trouble follows Dave Robicheaux.

James Lee Burke's new novel, Swan Peak, finds Detective Robicheaux far from his New Iberia roots, attempting to relax in the untouched wilderness of rural Montana. He, his wife, and his buddy Clete Purcell have retreated to stay at an old friend's ranch, hoping to spend their days fishing and


Trouble follows Dave Robicheaux.

James Lee Burke's new novel, Swan Peak, finds Detective Robicheaux far from his New Iberia roots, attempting to relax in the untouched wilderness of rural Montana. He, his wife, and his buddy Clete Purcell have retreated to stay at an old friend's ranch, hoping to spend their days fishing and enjoying their distance from the harsh, gritty landscape of Louisiana post-Katrina.

But the serenity is soon shattered when two college students are found brutally murdered in the hills behind where the Robicheauxs and Purcell are staying. They quickly find themselves involved in a twisted and dangerous mystery involving a wealthy, vicious oil tycoon, his deformed brother and beautiful wife, a sexually deviant minister, an escaped con and former country music star, and a vigilante Texas gunbull out for blood. At the center of the storm is Clete, who cannot shake the feeling that he is being haunted by the ghosts from his past -- namely Sally Dio, the mob boss he'd sabotaged and killed years before.

In this expertly drawn, gripping story, Burke deftly weaves intricate, engaging plotlines and original, compelling characters with his uniquely graceful prose. He transcends genre yet again in the latest thrilling addition to his New York Times bestselling series.

Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
Swan Peak finds Dave and his sidekick, Clete Purcel, in western Montana, hoping to exorcise the nightmare of Hurricane Katrina with a little trout fishing and clean mountain air…the rugged setting makes a grand stage for these battered characters, living "on the ragged edges of America" and slugging their way through this big, brawling novel.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Detective Dave Robicheaux is pitted against all types, from an oil tycoon's deformed brother to a sexually indiscreet minister. With these colorful characters running rampant, narrator Will Patton never stumbles in his delivery or interpretations, offering realistic, entertaining characters who are sure to engage listeners right from the start. Patton's voice is perfectly suited for Burke's rough and tumble tale, his gritty Southern dialect sets the tone for this brooding murder mystery. A Simon & Schuster hardcover (Reviews, May 19). (July)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Another triumph." — Los Angeles Times

"A sprawling, exuberant thriller." — The Oregonian

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Dave Robicheaux Series , #17
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Clete Purcel had heard of people who sleep without dreaming, but either because of the era and neighborhood in which he had grown up, or the later experiences that had come to define his life, he could not think of sleep as anything other than an uncontrolled descent into a basement where the gargoyles turned somersaults like circus midgets.

Sometimes he dreamed of his father, the milkman who rose at three-fifteen a.m. and rumbled off to work in a truck that clinked with bottles and trailed a line of melting ice out the back doors. When his father reentered the house off magazine at midday, he occasionally carried a sack of Popsicles for clete and his two sisters. on other days, his face was already oily and distorted with early-morning booze, his victimhood and childlike cruelty searching for release on the most vulnerable members of his home.

Sometimes in his dreams clete saw a straw hooch with a mamasan in the doorway suddenly engulfed in an arc of liquid flame sprayed from a Zippo-track. He saw a seventeen-year-old door gunner go apeshit on a wedding party in a free-fire zone, the brass cartridges jacking from an m60 suspended from a bungee cord. He saw a navy corpsman with rubber spiders on his steel pot try to stuff the entrails of a marine back inside his abdomen with his bare hand. He saw himself inside a battalion aid station, his neck beaded with dirt rings, his body dehydrated from blood expander, his flak jacket glued to the wound in his chest.

He saw the city of New Orleans sink beneath the waves, just as Atlantis had. Except in the dream, New Orleans and the China Sea and perhaps a place in the Mideast, where he had never been, melded together and created images that were nonsensical. Blood washed backward off a sandy cusp of beach into a turquoise ocean. Soldiers who looked like people Clete had once known struggled silently uphill into machine guns that made no sound.

When he woke, he felt that his own life had been spent in the service of enterprises that today contained no learning value for anyone and would be replicated over and over again, regardless of the cost. A psychiatrist once told him he suffered from agitated depression and psychoneurotic anxiety. Clete asked the psychiatrist where he had been for the last fifty years.

His dreams clung to his skin like cobweb and followed him into the day. If he drank, his dreams went to a place where dreams go and waited two or three nights before they bloomed again, like specters beckoning from the edge of a dark wood. But on this particular morning Clete was determined to leave his past in the past and live in the sunlight from dawn until nightfall and then sleep the sleep of the dead.

It was cold when he unzipped his sleeping bag and crawled out of his polyethylene tent by a creek in western Montana. His restored maroon Caddy convertible with the starched-white top was parked in the trees, speckled with frost. In the distance the sun was just striking the fresh snow that had fallen on the mountain peaks during the night. The spring runoff had ended, and the stream by which he had made his camp was wide and dark and devoid of whitewater and running smoothly over gray boulders that had begun to form shadows on the pebble bed. He could hear the easy sweep of wind in the pine and fir trees, the muted clattering of rocks in the stream's current. For a moment he thought he heard a motorized vehicle grinding down the dirt road, but he paid no attention to it.

He made a ring of rocks and placed twigs and pinecones inside it and started a fire that flared and twisted in the wind like a yellow handkerchief and blew sparks and smoke across a long riffle undulating down the middle of the streambed.

The place where he was cooking his breakfast in an iron skillet set on top of hot rocks was the perfect site for a camp and the perfect place to begin wading upstream through canyon country, false-casting a dry fly over his head, watching it float delicately toward him on the riffle. He had not chosen this place but had found it by accident, turning onto the dirt road after he had found a snow gate locked across the asphalt two-lane. The countryside was grand, the cliffs sheer, the tops of the buttes covered with ponderosa pine, the slopes already blooming with wildflowers. Along the edges of the stream, there were no prints in the soft gravel except those of deer and elk. The air smelled of the woods and wet fern and cold stone and humus that stayed in shade twenty-four hours and the iridescent spray drifting off the boulders in the stream. The air smelled as though it had never been stained by the chemical agencies of the industrial era. It smelled as the earth probably had on the first day of creation, Clete thought.

He pulled his hip waders out of the Caddy and put them on by the side of the stream, snapping the rubber straps tight on his belt, looping a net and a canvas creel around his neck. He waded deep into the water, down a ledge, his feet slipping on moss-covered surfaces, until the drop-off sent the water over the edge of his waders. He whipped a dry fly over his head twice, then three times, the line forming a figure eight, whistling with a dull wet sound past his ear. With the fourth cast, he stiffened his wrist and let the fly float gently down on the riffle.

That was when he heard the sound of the truck again, mounting the grade just beyond a cut between two pine-covered hills.

But he kept his eyes on the fly floating down the riffle toward him. He saw an elongated shape break from behind a boulder, rising quickly into the light, the dark green dorsal hump roiling the surface. There was a flick of water, like a tiny splash of quicksilver, then the rainbow took the fly and went straight down into the shadows with it.

Out of the corner of his eye, Clete saw a bright red pickup with an extended cab and a diesel-powered engine crunch down the slope onto a bed of white rocks. Once stopped, the driver did not cut his engine, nor did he get out of the vehicle. Inside the canyon walls, the engine clattered like a vibrating junkyard.

Clete tried to strip line when the rainbow began to run. But his foot slipped on the moss, the tip of his Fenwick bowed to the water, and his two-pound monofilament tippet snapped in half. Suddenly his Fenwick was as light and useless as air in his palm.

He looked up on the bank. The truck was parked in shadow, its headlights sparkling, and Clete could not see through the dark reflection that had pooled in the windshield. He waded up through the shallows until he was on solid ground, then he slipped off his fly vest and laid it on a rock. He set down his fly rod and net and creel and removed his porkpie hat and reset it at a slant on his forehead. He looked at his convertible, where his Smith & Wesson .38 rested inside the glove box.

Clete walked to his fire ring and squatted beside it, ignoring the truck and the hammering of the diesel engine. He lifted his coffeepot off a warm stone and poured his coffee into a tin cup, then added condensed milk to it from a can he had punctured with his Swiss army knife. Then he got to his feet again, wiping his hands on his clothes, his eyes shifting back onto the front windows of the truck. He stared for a long time at the truck, drinking his coffee, not moving, his expression benign, his green eyes clear and unblinking.

He wore a charcoal corduroy shirt and faded jeans that were buttoned under his navel. On first glance his massive arms and shoulders and the breadth of his chest gave him a simian appearance, but his top-heavy proportions were redeemed by his height and his erect posture. A pink scar that had the texture and color of a bicycle patch ran through one eyebrow. The scar and his over-the-hill good looks and his little-boy haircut and the physical power that seemed to emanate from his body created a study in contrasts that attracted women to him and gave his adversaries serious pause.

Both front doors of the truck opened, and two men stepped out on the rocks. They were smiling, glancing up at the hilltops, as though they were sharing in Clete's appreciation of the morning. "Get a little lost?" the driver said.

"Somebody locked the snow gate on the state road, so I turned in here for the night," Clete said.

"That road is not state-owned. It's private. But you probably didn't know that," the driver said. The accent was slightly adenoidal, perhaps Appalachian or simply Upper South.

"My map shows it as a state road," Clete said. "Would you mind cutting your engine? I'm starting to get a headache, here."

The driver's physique was nondescript, his face lean, his brown hair dry and uncombed, ruffling in the breeze, his smile stitched in place. A half-circle of tiny puncture scars was looped under his right eye, as though a cookie cutter had been pressed into his skin, recessing the eye and dulling the light inside it. His shirt hung outside his trousers. "Have you caught any fish?" he asked.

"Not yet," Clete replied. He looked at the passenger. "What are you doing?"

The passenger was a hard-bodied, unshaved man. His hair was black and shiny, his dark eyes lustrous, his flannel shirt buttoned at the wrists and throat. He wore canvas trousers with big brads on them and a wide leather belt hitched tightly into his hips. The combination of his unwashed look and the fastidious attention he gave his utilitarian clothes gave him a bucolic aura of authority, like that of a man who wears the smell of his sweat and testosterone as a challenge to others. "I'm writing down your license number, if you don't have an objection," he said.

"Yeah, I do object," Clete said. "Who are you guys?"

The unshaved man with black hair nodded and continued to write on his notepad. "You from Lou'sana? I'm from down south myself. Miss'sippi. You been to Miss'sippi, haven't you?" he said.

When Clete didn't reply, the passenger said, "New Orleans flat-ass got ripped off the map, didn't it?"

"Yeah, the F-word in Louisiana these days is FEMA," Clete said.

"You got a lot less Afro-Americans to worry about, though," the passenger said. He rolled the racial designation on his tongue.

"What is this?" Clete said.

"You're on posted land, is what this is," the driver said.

"I didn't see any sign to that effect," Clete said.

The passenger went to the truck and lifted a microphone off the dash and began speaking into it.

"You guys are running my tag?" Clete said.

"You don't remember me?" the driver said.


"It'll come to you. Think back about seventeen years or so."

"Tell you what, I'll pack up my gear and clear out, and we'll call it even," Clete said.

"We'll see," the driver said.

"We'll see?" Clete said.

The driver shrugged, still grinning.

The passenger finished his call on the radio. "His name is Clete Purcel. He's a PI out of New Orleans," he said. "There's a pair of binoculars on the seat of his convertible."

"You been spying on us, Mr. Purcel?" the driver said.

"I've got no idea who you are."

"You're not working for the bunny huggers?" the driver said.

"We're done here, bub."

"We need to look inside your vehicle, Mr. Purcel," the driver said.

"Are you serious?" Clete said.

"You're on the Wellstone Ranch," the driver said. "We can have you arrested for trespassing, or you can let us do our job and look in your car. You didn't have situations like this when you worked security at Tahoe?"

Clete blinked, then pointed his finger. "You were a driver for Sally Dio."

"I was a driver for the car service he used. Too bad he got splattered in that plane accident."

"Yeah, a great national tragedy. I heard they flew the flag at half-mast for two minutes in Palermo," Clete said. He glanced at the black-haired man, who had just retrieved a tool from the truck and was walking back toward Clete's Caddy with it. "Tell your man there if he sticks that Slim Jim in my door, I'm going to jam it up his cheeks."

"Whoa, Quince," the driver said. "We're going to accept Mr. Purcel's word. He'll clean up his camp and be gone -- " He paused and looked thoughtfully at Clete. "What, five or ten minutes, Mr. Purcel?"

Clete cleared an obstruction in his windpipe. He poured his coffee on his fire. "Yeah, I can do that," he said.

"So, see you around," the driver said.

"I didn't get your name."

"I didn't give it. But it's Lyle Hobbs. That ring any bells for you?"

Clete kept his expression flat, his eyes empty. "My memory isn't what it used to be."

The man who had introduced himself as Lyle Hobbs stepped closer to Clete, his head tilting sideways. "You trying to pull on my crank?"

Clete set his tin coffee cup on the rock next to his Fenwick and slipped his hands into the back pockets of his jeans, as a third-base coach might. Don't say anything, he told himself.

"You don't hide your thoughts too good," the driver said. "You got one of those psychodrama faces. People can read everything that's in it. You ought to be an actor."

"You were up on a molestation charge. You did a county stint on it," Clete said. "The girl was thirteen. She recanted her statement eventually, and you went back to driving for Sally Dee."

"You got a good memory. It was a bum beef from the jump. I got in the sack with the wrong lady blackjack dealer. Hell hath no fury, know what I mean? But I didn't drive for Sally Dee. I drove for the service he contracted."

"Yeah, you bet," Clete replied, his eyes focused on neutral space.

"Have a good day," Lyle Hobbs said. His head was still tilted sideways, his grin still in place. His impaired eye seemed to have the opaqueness and density of a lead rifle ball.

"Same to you," Clete said. He began to take down his tent and fold it into a neat square while the two visitors to his camp backed their truck around. The back of his neck was hot, his mouth dry, his blood pounding in his ears and wrists. Walk away, walk away, walk away, a voice in his head said. He heard the oversize truck tires crunch on the rocks, then the steel bumper scrape across stone. He turned around in time to see one wheel roll over his Fenwick rod and grind the graphite shanks and the lightweight perforated reel and the aluminum guides and the double-tapered floating line into a pack rat's nest.

"You did that deliberately," Clete said, rising to his feet.

"Didn't see it, Scout's honor," the driver said. "I saw them comb Sally Dee and his crew out of the trees. The whole bunch looked like pulled pork somebody had dropped into a fire. You're a swinging dick, big man. Public campground is five miles south. Catch a fat one." Copyright © 2008 by James Lee Burke

Meet the Author

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, and named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, is the author of more than thirty previous novels and two collections of short stories, including such New York Times bestsellers as Light of the WorldCreole Belle, Swan Peak, The Tin Roof Blowdown, and Feast Day of Fools. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

Brief Biography

New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana
Date of Birth:
December 5, 1936
Place of Birth:
Houston, Texas
B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960

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Swan Peak (Dave Robicheaux Series #17) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Dinofog More than 1 year ago
I love the Robicheaux series and was looking forward to this one but must admit I was rather disappointed. I understand an author wanting to do something different from the norm they have established for their style and character, but this formula wasn't the right one (in my opinion). The prose lacks Burke's stunningly visual - almost poetic - style, settling instead into the more journalistic "punch" that most of today's modern writers have unfortunately fallen for. Sure there were moments of brilliance (the Epilogue is quite beautiful) but overall this read like someone else's work. Also think incorporating both first and third person in the same novel was a mistake - at least for Burke. He is so strong in first person; I really feel that's his true voice. Lastly, the amount of violence in this particular book was really almost too much. I love action as much as the next guy, but the prison rape descriptions in particular were very lengthy and overdrawn. Could have gotten the point across in a more vague manner and the book wouldn't have suffered. Try A MORNING FOR FLAMINGOS to see the "real" Burke at work (that one's an amazing book!)
glauver More than 1 year ago
I thought James Lee Burke's last Dave Robicheaux novel, The Tin Roof Blowdown, re-vitalized the series. However, moving Dave and Clete to Montana and returning to loose ends from one of Burke's best novels, Black Cherry Blues, is a misstep. The prose and descriptions are as vivid as ever but I felt the plot was a step backwards from his previous novel. Burke will probably never write a truly bad book because of his huge talent but I think it is time for a real change of pace in the Robicheaux series.
mr_norman More than 1 year ago
The twisted lives of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel reach new depths in these peaks. Burke can scent evil and leads us deep into its inner core. I was both hooked and repelled this time, even though i knew there would be some redemption at the end. No one escapes unscarred, though. Burke's penchant for prose makes reading a pleasure. He captures vivid images without belaboring them. His return to Montana offers a nice break from the swamps and bayous and cesspits for Louisiana, even though it is peopled by corruption and faced with imminent pollution. The stench of New Orleans is never far away. This is a must-read for Burke's admirers. If you are new to Burke, though, go back and start at the beginning. To appreciate this installment in the series, you need to have been a passenger from the start.
JDubWB More than 1 year ago
This is the first James Lee Burke book that I read. Robicheaux never takes a back seat to Reacher or Bob Lee Swagger! Plus, there's an even greater benefit. Burke is incredibly literate, turns a beautiful phrase and actually puts a lot of thought and philosophy into his writing. All in all this was a highly entertaining read and since I read this book, I went out and bought several more which I am thoroughly enjoying as well.
DavidZiskin More than 1 year ago
James Lee Burke is the almost certainly the best writer working today. I think he will eventually attain the same status in American letters as William Faulkner. I read all of his books. This presentation is terrific. Will Patton does Burke perfectly. Great stuff.
Tweenthepages More than 1 year ago
Although I love James Lee Burke's New Iberia setting for Dave Robicheaux et al, it was nice to find him writing from his other home region. The scenery may have changed, but Dave and Cletus have not. This novel felt quite different to me than most of Dave's New-Iberia-based stories. There is less magic in Burke's description of the Northwest than in his description of his beloved New Iberia parish in Louisiana. It depends on the development of the characters rather than the dark mood of the bayous, and in the odd literary manner of mixing first-person narrative with third-person, Burke manages to tell two stories in one book. Dave and Cletus, with Molly along for scarce appearances, have their reluctant investigation as one plot, but there is an astounding story of redemption in the sub-plot. I am rarely caught by surprise, but this one did it. The regular rough characters are present in "Swan Peak". In a Robicheaux novel, there is always an initially smooth, refined, wealthy character whose morals are rotten; a woman who flirts with people who are not her husband; a disfigured man whom no one can quite pin down as devil or flawed angel; and the background of mobsters; and Dave and Clete must visit them each many times, and this book is no different. But one of Burke's talents is making them uniquely creepy and capable of heinous acts, and deserving of their fate, however horrible it may be. I have to admit that each time I finish a Dave Robicheaux novel, and I've read them all, I feel tired. Not from the action, nor from the violence, but from the back and forth angst that hangs over Dave's friendship with Clete. Both men have "inner demons', which makes for great characters but frustrating moments as one scolds the other about the same sins he himself commits. Dave reprimands Clete for starting fights, then beats someone nearly to death. If it happens once or twice in the book, it makes for irony or inner conflicts. A zillion times in one story is just tiring. Yes, yes, I know it is there for underlying tension and exposing the nerves that are always just on top of the boys' skins, but I would like to see Burke break out of that mold just once and have Dave and Clete on the same page throughout the book. Just once. You could call it a black-comedy-caper, Mr. Burke. Then go back to the angst-ridden, demon-inhabiting, nail-biting relationship they have. If that part of each Robicheaux novel makes me grind my teeth, the rest of it is music to the soul. Burke has a way with his prose that sometimes makes me read an entire paragraph twice before moving on. His elegance makes up for any frustration I feel caught between the two protagonists. So let Dave and Cletus bicker and rage at one another. If that's the only way I can have my Robicheaux novels, then I'll take it.
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Andother great one Mr Burke.
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Santi79 More than 1 year ago
Burke's writings are nothing short of marvelous. His characters may be some very rock bottom souls but the situations in which he sets them are so well designed and studied you cannot stop reading until the book says "the end!" Swan Peak is particularly interesing in that Robicheaux does his thing in Montana. Wonderful change of situ.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago