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I was pulled into this intense, elegiac and sometime melancholic salute to Dave Robicheaux and buddy Clete Purcell and their Louisiana from the first few pages--but was also overwhelmed and fatigued by it at the closing. Author James Lee Burke has poured heart and soul into this story of greed, exploitation and basic human savagery in such an unrestrained fashion that the effect is like being on a roller coaster that runs on a permanent loop--exhilarating but maybe too much of a good thing.

The storyline is convoluted and secondary to the examination of the lives of Robicheaux and Purcell. It gradually builds to expose garden variety larceny, thuggery, art theft and forgery, white slavery and Nazi war crimes. The intervals between action segments look at the trials and tribulations of the two principals and the dynamics of their relationship over the years. Most interesting to me was the author's observations about the story's context--the state of his state and his obvious frustration with the direction that it has been going in. One telling para:

"For me Louisiana has always been a haunted place. I believe the specters of slaves and Houma and Atakapa Indians and pirates and Confederate soldiers and Acadian farmers and plantation belles are still out there in the mist. I believe their story has never been adequately told and they will never rest until it is. I also believe my home state is cursed by ignorance and poverty and racism, much of it deliberately inculcated to control a vulnerable electorate. And I believe many of the politicians in Louisiana are among the most stomach-churning examples of white trash and venality I have ever known". *

Ultimately, this is an entertaining novel by a masterful writer. It is probably overwritten and overlong by 150 pages, but there is enough brilliance and passion here to make up for the occasional repetition and overstatement.

*I was reading this in a week when the current, popular governor of Louisiana, campaigning for the presumptive Republican candidate for president, was condemning the Affordable Healthcare Act--this from a man who presides over a state where a quarter of the population has no healthcare at all and is struggling with major problems in education, environment, transportation, etc.
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on 24 July 2012
Ohh yes...the two great New Orleans buddies are back having survived their gunshot wounds in their last adventure and Clete is back to his rip roaring best whilst Dave is taking it a little easier! Is Tee Jolie a dream in Robicheaux's morphine induced dreamworld or does she still walk the earth. Doesn't matter, Dave and Clete are looking for her and although I'm only a quarter of the way through this book I know, I really KNOW this will be my read of 2012. The scene where they go back inside to share a po'boy sandwich and a couple of beers with her old, neglected grandfather is one of the most touching passages I have ever read - if you're a fan of great fiction, great crime writing this guy is the absolute (as we say in London,England)Guv'nor
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on 30 August 2012
I've been a fan of James Lee Burke's writing for a long time but recently there's been a marked dropping off in the quality of it, with rather too much moralistic pontificating and sub religiosity; The Glass Rainbow was a big disappointment and I was afraid he was on an accelerating curve downwards. So I turned to Creole Belle with some apprehension - but I needn't have worried, he's bang on form again in this tale. The trade mark descriptive writing is as good as ever, the pontification is kept well under control and the thick-ear stuff is very good.

What, I think, lifts the book above the level of his recent work is the flowering of Dave Robicheaux's daughter Alafair as a character and the introduction of Gretchen Horowitz as Clete Purcell's daughter - and, in fact the interaction between these two is terrific. The scene when they two women first meet is brilliantly handled: they start off being mutually hostile but gradually get to realise that they are, in a sense, two of a kind. And the other stand-out scene is when Gretchen gives the bum's rush to a slimy sleazeball and his two bodyguards, superbly done.

The book is long (500+ pages) but it never drags and I found it very hard to put down. More, please, James!
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If you have read any of the preceding Robicheaux novels then you know exactly what to expect with Creole Belle. James Lee Burke delivers more of the same; the heady scents and authentic sense of Louisiana in all its natural beauty and unnatural cruelty. Add to that Dave’s eternal battle with his own righteousness and his own weaknesses – in this instance, set against the back drop of the oil spill which followed Katrina in visiting yet more hardship on the people of the bayou and New Orleans.

Robicheaux is a crusader and he willingly flings himself against the mighty machinery of every oppressor he runs up against. As usual, the bad guys are rich, white, modern-day inheritors of the slave plantations who live in rambling old mansions shaded by live oaks, and who prey on the weak and the poor and those they can abuse or profit from. Their sleekly pampered women are beautiful and dangerous; seductive and ambiguous. Their crimes are many – but most of their activities fall well beyond the scope of a sheriff’s deputy in New Iberia parish. That’s until a dead body turns up in the swamps; a frozen dead body of a missing girl.
JLB hits every beat of the best Robicheaux investigations in this novel. The plot serves simply as a backdrop to his ongoing discussion of a series of themes about the southern States, the nature of the country, of man’s exploitation of the weak.
In this episode it’s sparked into new life by the arrival of Gretchen, a spiky young woman who may be Clete’s daughter. She may also be a mobbed-up contract killer with paper to serve on Dave’s family and friends. Gretchen enlivens the already rich cast of characters; her sharp edges and blunt manner serve as a perfect contrast to Robicheaux’s daughter who, truth be told, is always a little too good to be true.
(There's more plot and character details at -- too much to ramble on here!)
Creole Belle is soaked through with the authentic smells and sounds of the South, from the beignets at Café du Monde to the shrimp po’boy sandwiches and the misty paddle-steamer which may one day take Clete and Dave on their final boat ride into the electric mist. It’s also a damn fine crime thriller in its own right, racked with fights and sudden episodes of extreme violence which emphasise how thin the veneer of civilisation may be in some cases.

I relish JLB’s absolute ability to transport me to another world, and fill it with an intriguing mystery and utterly compelling characters. For as long as he goes on writing Robicheaux novels of this standard, then I’m happy to return to Iberia parish – hoping that the Bobbsey twins from homicide can beat the odds stacked against them once again.

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on 26 August 2012
Barely recovered from the serious wounds they suffered in "The Glass Rainbow", Dave Robicheaux and Dave Purcel are at it again, two mythological creatures fighting evil in Lousiana's bayou country. And it really doesn't matter that, by rights, they should be in their late sixties or early seventies and playing a relaxed game of golf instead of squeezing rounds out of semi-automatic weapons or mixing it up with hired guns and assorted bottom-feeders. As James Lee Burke aptly puts it: "the Bobbsey Twins from Homicide are forever". Dave and Clete are larger than life as usual, and Dave's daughter Alafair shows once again she can think for herself and will make her own choices. A new amazing character, Gretchen, joins their ranks in "Creole Belle". But I'll say no more. You've got to read the book (and count the days til the next one, like I'm doing).
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on 14 March 2013
James Lee Burke is one of the greatest living writers on the planet - and I don't even qualify that with 'crime'. I suspect we'll one day find his stories being studied at universities, the writing is of such an awe-inspiring quality. But like everyone who produces a long term series using the same characters and setting, some are better than others - and this was so good I felt like crying when I finished it. The creation of Gretchen Horowitz as Clete's foul-mouthed, kick-ass daughter is inspired - she is a female Clete, with all of his flaws and virtues, and truly gives the book an extra layer of emotional depth. The sense of mortality hovering around Dave and Clete's shoulders as they do battle against corruption is tangible, and weighs the whole story down with a feeling akin to doom - all the usual atmospheric touches are there, the music, the ghosts, the memories of a Louisiana gone by. The prose is astonishing, the plot complex, the characters always multi-dimensional. I didn't think he'd be able to top the tin Roof Blowdown, but Creole Belle did it.
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on 8 December 2012
Having read almost everything he has written I would have to admit I am addicted to his style, poetry and philosphy and the environment of the deep South in which his stories are largely based. It really is remarkable that this latest effort is still so readable and enjoyable. Well done James Lee. Please let us have more. No handle cranked here!
Submerging myself completely in the world he creates is still a great experience and when it was over, I felt a great loss.
This latest is full of the usual intrigue, danger and violence and all the well known characters perform their parts as we have come to expect. The author and the characters are all ageing, as am I, but I do hope there is more to come.
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on 31 March 2014
This is James Lee Burke's finest book so far. It follows almost immediately from the events in 'The Glass Rainbow' but you don't need to have read Rainbow first (although all fans will have of course). Robicheaux and Purcell are back, and in some ways this is more of a Clete Purcel book than a book about Streak. Once more they are pitted against a rich corrupt family, but this time Dave is thinking and acting more like Clete, on full bore with the safety off. I really didn't want the book to end. It is very topical too as its main plot revolves around the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the later oil spill. James Burke has reached a new peek of writing with this book.
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on 21 April 2015
I love his books dearly but after ploughing manfully through this one I feel, sadly that it may be time he hung up his pen. The meandering moralising, the irritating pomposity of Robicheaux, the florid descriptions of weather and flora and the bad guys from central casting have all got a bit too wearing.
I also get a bit irritated by the timelines engendered by the characters recollections of the past. By my reckoning Robicheaux and Purcell are now well into their seventies, well past retirement age and possibly a little too old for extreme violence and gunplay.
Yes, I know it's only fiction but everything has a finite life.
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"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -- Romans 12:21 (NKJV)

In Creole Belle, James Lee Burke ups the literary qualities of his prose to new levels of poetic imagery. He also does a remarkable job of portraying the problems of perception and memory in ways that resonate more powerfully than any scientific description you'll ever read. I was impressed with the effective way that Clete Purcel seems to have been encompassed by Dave Robicheaux's visions, adding a more romantic aspect to this story.

That said, the outlines of the story will seem very familiar to those who are long-time fans of the series. It's good versus evil once again with a vengeance. Although I don't mind the same story being retold with new garments, in this case there's a reaching out to the evils of Europe that comes across as quite a stretch for a story that's obviously based in the recent past. It felt like such overreaching to me that the story's magic spell was dimmed for me.

So what's the story about on the surface level? Dave is recovering from being shot in The Glass Rainbow. A generous dose of painkillers is affecting his perceptions. When Tee Jolie Melton seems to visit, he's not sure. Because she's missing, everyone else doubts Dave's memory. He's not so sure. As usual, the search goes against the grain for everyone else, but Dave proceeds regardless ... turning up some very curious events and some highly untrustworthy people. Burke takes his time honing in on the evil, beautifully building characters and conundrums in the process. It's like sitting down with someone form southern Louisiana who wants to tell you a story about the old days in the French Quarter. It's going to take awhile, but you probably won't mind. It's quite an experience to listen to such a beautifully told tale.

To me the highlight of the book is the introduction of a complex and highly original character that is connected to Clete's part of the plot. I won't say more ... lest I spoil the story.
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