James Lee Burke is what fellow writers call a wordsmith. He can make your eyes water with a lyrical description of tropical rain falling on a Louisiana bayou … Dave Robicheaux, the narrator of this robust regional series, is an Iberia Parish sheriff’s detective with the melancholy air of a man who occasionally sees the hollow-eyed ghosts of the Confederate dead … Like most of Burke’s plots, this one has roots in Louisiana history, a gumbo of ‘misogamy and racism and homophobia,’ not to mention ‘demagoguery’ and ‘self-congratulatory ignorance.’
The ending is a bit jumbled with who did what to whom with an ever-increasing body count, and even Robicheaux himself is in a bit of a quandary about the entire adventure. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter. The poetic writing and depth of the major characters balances out everything. Reading one of Burke’s novels is truly an immersive experience, with every ache and anguish feeling gut-wrenchingly real. It has been almost five years since the last Dave Robicheaux novel, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
Burke’s latest effort is an emotional ride, especially for longtime fans of his bestselling series. With the action dialed down, Robicheaux works thanks to the powerful impact created by the internal conflict waging war inside of Burke’s beloved characters. In many ways, they’re the same people fans have come to know over the course of twenty previous novels … [Robicheaux] is written in a way that allows readers to feel the pain Robicheaux is battling–creating a raw, gripping experience that’ll stay with you long after the story ends.
The novel kicks off with one of Burke’s poetic soliloquies, a romantic historian’s lament, as he sucks at the lotus fruit of nostalgia … Robicheaux begins with Dave thinking himself a murderer, and in the end, he is never cleared. Like 2017, we are distracted by new and greater outrages as the story goes on, with the initial grief of Dave’s loss erased by the chaos and madness around him. The one flaw is that the loss of Dave’s wife, Molly, which begins the novel, would be the center of everything in real life … Robicheaux earns its name as a consummate novel of the man we’ve followed for 21 novels, from The Neon Rain until today. You could pick it up without knowing the past 20 and be entertained, or you could see it as a capstone, what could be a final novel in one of the most enduring series in fiction.
This is all pretty far-fetched, though nonetheless engrossing for the most part. Mr. Burke’s subplots and subsidiary characters are manifold, complex and hard to keep track of. There are loads of bad guys in Mr. Burke’s Louisiana … It’s not a neat storyline, and Mr. Burke’s prose can be tediously flowery and overwritten. Events are as messy as Robicheaux’s tormented psyche. The line between good guys and bad guys is often blurred, while virtue is not necessarily rewarded. Mr. Burke reflects this by refusing to tie things up in an orderly feel-good fashion at the end. Perhaps the author is just trying to tell us that life doesn’t follow logical norms.
To say that Robicheaux is a complex man is a serious understatement: He’s twice widowed, a devoted father, a PTSD-haunted Vietnam veteran and an alcoholic who sometimes stumbles on the recovery road. And, growing old, he’s experiencing increasing signals of mortality. But Robicheaux also has a cast-iron moral code … Burke has profound gifts for bracing dialogue, meditations on morality and ethics, and lyrical but tough-minded prose ... Some readers might dislike Burke’s generally humorless and occasionally overwrought prose style, and they may tire of the themes and character types he has returned to over the decades...But there’s no denying it: There’s nothing quite like a James Lee Burke book
… [an] enthralling yet grim novel of crime, hate, and tragedy … The cast is Shakespearean in its variety: a demagogue, a novelist, the mob, good cops and bad, victims of hubris and hate, and ghosts aplenty. No one here is blameless amid white supremacy, bigotry, misogyny, child abuse, flourishing sex and drug trades, and deep socioeconomic inequity, and Robicheaux and Clete never shy away from confronting what they see as the world’s evils … The novel’s murders and lies—both committed with unsettling smiles—will captivate, start to finish.
Fans of Burke’s fiction who recognize the familiar types he evokes so powerfully—the corrupt politician, the plausible mobster, the attractive but damaged woman, the bully who preys on the weak and helpless—eagerly await the arrival of another stock character, the crazy hired killer who’ll purify the landscape as remorselessly as a flash fire, and immediately recognize him in the person of Chester ‘Smiley’ Wimple … Despite a plot and a cast of characters formulaic by Burke’s standards (though wholly original for anyone else), the intimations of mortality that have hovered over this series for 30 years have never been sharper or sadder.