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New York Times Bestseller
James Lee Burke’s most beloved character, Dave Robicheaux, returns in this gritty, atmospheric mystery set in the towns and backwoods of Louisiana.
DAVE ROBICHEAUX IS A HAUNTED MAN.
Between his recurrent nightmares about Vietnam, his battle with alcoholism, and the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Molly, his thoughts drift from one irreconcilable memory to the next. Images of ghosts at Spanish Lake live on the edge of his vision.
During a murder investigation, Dave Robicheaux discovers he may have committed the homicide he’s investigating, one which involved the death of the man who took the life of Dave’s beloved wife. As he works to clear his name and make sense of the murder, Robicheaux encounters a cast of characters and a resurgence of dark social forces that threaten to destroy all of those whom he loves. What emerges is not only a propulsive and thrilling novel, but a harrowing study of America: this nation’s abiding conflict between a sense of past grandeur and a legacy of shame, its easy seduction by demagogues and wealth, and its predilection for violence and revenge. James Lee Burke has returned with one of America’s favorite characters, in his most searing, most prescient novel to date.
About the Author
James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He’s authored thirty-six novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.
Hometown:New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana
Date of Birth:December 5, 1936
Place of Birth:Houston, Texas
Education:B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960
Read an Excerpt
LIKE AN EARLY nineteenth-century poet, when I have melancholy moments and feel the world is too much for us and that late and soon we lay waste to our powers in getting and spending, I’m forced to pause and reflect upon my experiences with the dead and the hold they exert on our lives.
This may seem a macabre perspective on one’s life, but at a certain point it seems to be the only one we have. Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is. If there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning inside a basement that has no windows.
On a winter morning, among white clouds of fog out at Spanish Lake, I would see the boys in butternut splashing their way through the flooded cypress, their muskets held above their heads, their equipment tied with rags so it wouldn’t rattle. I was standing no more than ten feet from them, although they took no notice of me, as though they knew I had not been born yet, and their travail and sacrifice were not mine to bear.
Their faces were lean from privation, as pale as wax, their hair uncut, the rents in their uniforms stitched clumsily with string. Their mouths were pinched, their eyes luminous with caution. The youngest soldier, a drummer boy, could not have been older than twelve. On one occasion I stepped into the water to join them. Even then, none acknowledged my presence. The drummer boy stumbled and couldn’t right himself, struggling with the leather strap around his neck and the weight of his drum. I reached out to help him and felt my hand and arm sink through his shoulder. A shaft of sunlight pierced the canopy, turning the fog into white silk; in less than a second the column was gone.
Long ago, I ceased trying to explain events such as these to either myself or others. Like many my age, I believe people in groups are to be feared and that arguing with others is folly and the knowledge of one generation cannot be passed down to the next. Those may seem cynical sentiments, but there are certain truths you keep inside you and do not defend lest you cheapen and then lose them altogether. Those truths have less to do with the dead than the awareness that we are no different from them, that they are still with us and we are still with them, and there is no afterlife but only one life, a continuum in which all time occurs at once, like a dream inside the mind of God.
Why should an old man thrice widowed dwell on things that are not demonstrable and have nothing to do with a reasonable view of the world? Because only yesterday, on a broken sidewalk in a shabby neighborhood at the bottom of St. Claude Avenue, in the Lower Ninth Ward of St. Bernard Parish, under a colonnade that was still twisted out of shape by Katrina, across from a liquor store with barred windows that stood under a live oak probably two hundred years old, I saw a platoon of Confederate infantry march out of a field to the tune of “Darling Nelly Gray” and disappear through the wall of a gutted building and not exit on the other side.
* * *
THE MAN I came to see was Fat Tony Nemo, also known as Tony the Nose, Tony Squid, or Tony Nine Ball, the latter not because he was a pool shark but because he packed a nine ball into a bartender’s mouth with the butt of a pool cue. Of course, that was during his earlier incarnation, when he was a collector for Didoni Giacano and the two of them used to drive around New Orleans in Didi’s Caddy convertible, terrifying whoever couldn’t make the weekly vig, a bloodstained baseball bat propped up in the backseat. Currently, Fat Tony was involved in politics and narcotics and porn and casinos and Hollywood movies and the concrete business. He had also laundered money for the Triads in Hong Kong and helped Somoza’s greaseballs introduce crack cocaine to America’s inner cities. In terms of territory, he had fingers in pies all over Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. If he had any sense of morality or fear about a judgment down the track, I never saw it.
So why would a semi-retired sheriff’s detective from Iberia Parish want to make a social call on a psychopath like Tony Squid? Simple. Most investigative cops, often without knowing who Niccolò Machiavelli was, adhere to his admonition to keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Less simple is the fact that we share much of the same culture as the lowlifes, and we are more alike than different, and the information they give us is indispensable.
Fat Tony was sitting in a swivel chair behind his desk when I entered his office. No, that’s not correct. Tony didn’t sit; he piled himself into a chair or on a couch like a gelatinous heap of whale sperm thrown on a beach, except he was wearing a blue suit with a red boutonniere in the lapel. A sword with a scrolled brass guard in a plain metal scabbard lay across his ink pad. “I’m glad you could come, Dave. You never disappoint. That’s why I like you,” he wheezed.
“What’s the haps, Tony?”
“I’m on an oxygen bottle. I’m scheduled for a colostomy. I couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse that has an ATM. My wife tells me I got a serious case of GAPO. Otherwise, I’m doing great. What kind of question is that?” He had to catch his breath before he could continue. “Want a drink?”
“No, thanks. What’s GAPO?”
“Gorilla armpit odor. You still on the wagon?”
“I’m still in A.A., if that’s what you mean.”
“The same thing, right?”
“Whatever. Take Clete Purcel to a meeting with you.”
“What’s Clete done?”
“What hasn’t he done? He’s a fucking cancer on the whole city. He should have a steel codpiece locked on his body so he can’t reproduce.”
“How can I help you, Tony?”
“Maybe I can help you. I heard about your wife.”
“I appreciate your concern. I need to get back to New Iberia.”
“She got killed in an accident?”
“What, about three months ago?”
“Two years. She was T-boned by a guy in a pickup. I’d rather talk about something else.”
He handed me the sword. “I got this at a flea market in Memphis. I asked an expert what it’s worth. He said he’d take if off my hands for three thousand. The real value, what is it?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“You know about history, what the names of these places on the hilt mean, whether those places make the sword more valuable. What’s this Cemetery Hill stuff? Who fights a war in a fucking cemetery?”
The brass on the handle was engraved with the name of Lieutenant Robert S. Broussard, Eighth Louisiana Infantry. The base of the blade was stamped with the initials CSA and the name of the maker, James Conning, of Mobile, Alabama, and the year 1861.
“I did some Googling,” Tony said. “The guy who owned this was from New Iberia. It’s worth a lot more than two or three thousand dollars, right? Maybe the guy was famous for something.”
“You couldn’t find any of that on the Internet, with all the Civil War junk that’s on sale?”
“You can’t trust the Internet. It’s full of crazoids.”
I couldn’t begin to sort through the contradictions in what he had just said. This was a typical Fat Tony conversation. Trying to get inside his mind was akin to submerging your hand in an unflushed toilet. Outside, some black kids were breaking bottles with an air rifle in a vacant lot. There were concrete foundations in the lot without structures on them. A garbage truck was driving down a street, seagulls picking at its overflow.
“Is this about Clete?” I said.
“I got no problem with Purcel. Other people do. It’s true he took out that fat dick of his at the Southern Yacht Club and hosed down Bobby Earl’s car?”
“I don’t know,” I lied.
“Two weeks ago he did it again. At the casino.”
“No, the pope. Earl put his lady friend in the car, and suddenly, she’s sitting in a puddle of piss.”
“Why did you show me this sword, Tony?”
“Because the family of the guy who owned it lives in New Iberia. I thought maybe they’d want it.”
“What does any of this have to do with Clete and Bobby Earl?”
My head was throbbing. “It was good seeing you.”
“Sit down. I know what happened with your wife. No witnesses except the guy who killed her. He says she ran the Stop sign. They had to cut her out with the Jaws of Life?”
I could feel blood veins tightening on the side of my head.
“She died on the way to the hospital and got blamed for her own death?” he said.
“Who told you this?”
“Some cops. You got a dirty deal. Something ought to be done.”
“You need to disengage, Tony.”
“On top of it, I heard the guy tried to pump the insurance company. Shut the door.”
I leaned forward. “Listen carefully, Tony. My wife’s death is my business. You stay out of it.”
“Mabel, shut the door!” he yelled at his secretary. I raised my finger at him. I was trembling. I heard the door click shut behind me. He spoke before I could. “Hear me out. The guy ran over a kid in a school zone in Alabama. The kid was crippled for life. You give me the nod, this guy is gonna be crawling around on stumps.”
“When did he run over a child in a school zone?”
“Ten, fifteen years back.”
“Where in Alabama?”
“What difference does it make? I’m telling you like it is. A guy like that has got it coming.”
He was like every gangster I ever knew. They’re self-righteous and marginalize their victims before breaking their bones. Not one of them could think his way out of a wet paper bag. Their level of cruelty is equaled only by the level of disingenuousness that governs their lives.
“I want you to get this straight, Tony. Go near the man who hit my wife’s car, and I’ll come looking for you, up close and personal.”
“Yeah?” He lit a cigarette with a paper match, cupping the flame. He threw the burnt match into the wastebasket. “So fuck me.”
I stood up and pulled the sword halfway from its scabbard, then slid it inside again. The guard was brass, molded like a metal basket with slits in it. It was incised with the names of three battles that took place during Stonewall Jackson’s Shenandoah campaign, plus Cemetery Hill at Gettysburg, and extended protectively and cuplike over the back of my hand. The black leather on the grip was both soft and firm, wrapped with gold wire. I replaced the sword on Tony’s desk. “I think the Broussard family would be honored and delighted if you gave this to them.”
“I’m having a hard time processing this,” he said. “I try to be your friend, and you’re offended and make threats. If you were somebody else, we’d have a different outcome here.”
“So fuck both of us. Tell me something, Tony.”
“What? How you should get rid of terminal assholitis?”
“Why do you keep your office in a neighborhood like this?”
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It looks like a moonscape. In the next storm, it’s going underwater again.”
“I like to stay close to the people. On that subject, I’m backing a guy who might end up president of the United States. Want to know who that is?”
“Jimmy Nightingale. People have been talking political correctness in this country for too many years. There’s gonna be a change. Fucking A.”
“Somehow I believe you, Tony.”
And that was probably the most depressing thought I’d had in a long time.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have every book written by this man. I have loved them all and re-read them time and time again. This book is a rewrite of past writing. Disappointed this time.
I have been a fan for years, but the story telling and self indulgence has simply become to much for me.
Once again Burke brings back the Bobsey Twins in this long-awaited sequel. Mixing the past and present into a tapestry of of human frailties and heroism. Bringing life to the underbelly of human weakness and greed through his magical and masterful writing.
After a somewhat slow start, I became immersed into the story. It did sadden me that Dave began drinking again. Because of his moral beliefs and despite his past, I knew it was impossible for Dave to kill in a blackout. Clete is the best friend anybody could wish for. A mighty rough man but a loyal man. As Dave and Clete became embroiled in the case of the serial killer, I was still waiting for the solving of the deaths of the 7 women. Maybe I missed it as I was reading late into the night. Burke's descriptions and scene settings are a gift by themselves. Anyone who is in doubt of Mr. Burke's talent should read any book of his.
There are many good writers. There are fewer great writers. Then there are the writers who tower over all the others. These are rare and precious. I rank James Lee Burke as among the best of this elite group. Robicheaux does not disappoint in the least. After many iterations, the saga of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell never gets stale. There are few places in literature where you can find settings described in such richness, characters developed with every flaw and nuance known to mankind and still remain likeable. Dave and Clete are everyman's heroes. The slog through the ugly underbelly of Southern Louisiana while maintaining a deep seated sense of integrity and humanity. In Robicheaux, bad juju is afoot on numerous levels. The unsolved murders of five young women taint the atmosphere of all other investigations. There are influential people doing very bad things and not being held accountable. To make matters worse, a mysterious killer is taking out people with no obvious connections to each other. In other words, a typical few months in the life of New Iberia's finest. I usually give five stars to books that I cannot stop reading and that I mourn the endings of. This one definitely fits that bill. A monumental piece of work.
Imagery is overwhelming, characters trials are relatable, hard storyline
James Lee Burke is turned out another great story. Way he describes the scenery, the food and the events make everything come to life.
Mr. Burke, my hat is off to you. The imagery you paint in this story is almost unbelievable. Truely believe this is at the top of my reading list. And it is a lengthy list. It is hard to believe that some readers have failed to appreciate this as much as I do. If it were possible, this novel rates ten stars. J M Lydon
Enjoyed. It was worth the money to buy and the time to read.
James Lee Burke at his best.
Of all of James Lee Burke's novels and characters, Dave Robicheaux is my favourite. The latest, (#21), featuring this iconic character is Robicheaux. Burke takes us back to Louisiana. Now semi-retired as a cop with the New Iberia force, Dave is struggling with the loss of his beloved wife, his battle with alcohol and the ghosts of the past. He loses the battle with the bottle one night, blacking out with no memory of anything the next day. A murder took place that night, one that has ties to his life. He couldn't have done it, could he? He's not sure, despite assurances from his daughter Alafair. And Clete - Dave's former partner and life long friend. There's so much more to the plot - drugs, the mob, bent politicians, an assassin, low life thugs and so much more. Burke's plotting is impeccable. Clete too is in trouble, having made some bad financial decisions, and now finds himself indebted to the mob. But the biggest draw for me is Burke's descriptions and characterizations. His prose are beautiful, bringing time and place vividly to life. The good, the bad and the ugly of his beloved Louisiana. The social commentary woven into his stories are thought provoking. Dave's inner dialogue is raw and real. I love the sense of justice, right and wrong, that Dave and Clete share, even though justice sometimes takes a step over the line the wrong way. The friendship between the two is unbreakable. But I worry as the two grow older. Burke has moved his books along in real time. I chose to listen to Robicheaux. The narrator was Will Patton - and he was fantastic. His voice for Dave Robicheaux was perfect - measured, contemplative and easily evoking his thoughts and view of his world. But he also ramps it up into tightly controlled anger and rage. The voice for Clete is wildly different, but absolutely perfect - quick talking, sharp and caustic. I almost thought it was a completely different reader. The most chilling is the assassin. He speaks with a lisp that is truly terrifying. Again, another completely new tone, cadence and voice. All were clear and easy to understand. I appreciated having such distinct voices for each character. James Lee Burke is a consummate storyteller. Five stars for this latest.
Burke never fails to sustain a BRISK, compelling narrative cadence. "ROBICHEAUX" is no exception.
Detective Dave Robicheaux returns from his last adventure in Montana to the sheriff’s department in Iberia, Louisiana, an area about which James Lee Burke writes poetically in the long tradition of southern writers like Faulkner and Robert Penn Warren. Robicheaux is a haunted person, suffering from the loss of his wife, Molly, who was killed in an auto accident, nightmares from his time in Vietnam, and alcoholism. In fact, he goes off the wagon (a devotee of Alcoholics Anonymous) and wonders if he could have murdered the victim, the person who caused his beloved wife’s death, while drunk, even as he conducted the investigation into the incident. The novel is filled with all sorts of nefarious characters, ranging from outright gangsters to a Huey Long type who glibly mesmerizes the populace and plays a prominent role in events by representing how wealth and imagery can lead to undermining American traditions. And, of course, Clete Purcel, Dave’s closest friend, is front and center in the story, as is his daughter, Alafair, who writes a screenplay for a movie based on a Civil War event. The piercing prose and the sweep of the tale, combined with the extraordinary characters, are incomparable. It is interesting to note that while Mr. Burke writes about the South with such feeling, he lives in Montana. I guess distance makes for perspective. Highly recommended.
Great read as always
Too much filler.
Intriguing . Kept me up many nights . As always, never want it to end. I have read every book listed, but clamor for more. Look forward to meeting Mr. Burke some day.
I have read every book JLB has written and enjoyed them all. This newest book is no exception.
Terrific as always
This is a very complicated story. It is very grizzly and sharp, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is not for the weak.
Never disappointed with his books! Can’t wait till the next one. His characters, especially Cleve Purcell are bigger than life. His description of the terrain in south Louisiana is dead on. I have lived in N.O. And Baton Rouge for 40years and recognize the dialogue and descriptions used. Very genuine
This is another spellbinding story from a master storyteller. Thank you James Lee Burke.
I love these books but I wondered if this was a rewrite of one of his previous novels. Anyway, his writing style brings you right into this southern flavored story.
Conscience, morality , Southern dignity, entertainment in the mystery of life, Burke at his best !
Now I have to read all his other books