Purple Cane Road
is proof positive that James Lee Burke is considerably more than a dispenser of tough and atmospheric detective yarns. His central character, Dave Robicheaux, is more than just a powerful addition to a prestigious series. We are dealing here with a stylist of the first order: a writer who has managed to seamlessly marry the hard-boiled idiom of Chandler with the atmosphere and literary elegance of William Faulkner.
Robicheaux is here plunged into his most painful and personal odyssey yet. He learns that his mother, Mae, was a prostitute who ended up drowned in a mud puddle by crooked cops in the pay of the Mob. As Dave and his partner Clete Purcell investigate, they encounter State Governor Belmont Pugh, a fundamentalist preacher; the terrifying Remeta, a super-intelligent hit man, and, most significantly, Jim Gable, owner of the mansion in Purple Cane Road, who knows more about Dave's wife then Dave himself.
As Robicheaux struggles through a morass of intrigue and double-dealing, he finds that coming to terms with his own troubled past becomes as important as identifying the his mother's killers. Burke's strategy is to subtly subvert the standard detective narrative, creating a seamy panoply of the darker side of American society. Alongside the customary imperatives of bloody violence and dangerous sexuality, Burke is able to address such issues as the growing chasm between black and white and the inequalities that have riven American society. He is a storyteller of prodigious ability and his use of language remains nonpareil:
I returned to New Orleans and my problems with pari-mutuel windows and a dark-haired, milk-skinned wife from Martinique who went home with men from the Garden District while I was passed out in a house boat on Lake Pontchartrain, the downdraft of US Army helicopters flattening a plain of elephant grass in my dreams.
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The best in the Detective Dave Robicheaux series. (THE INDEPENDENT
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