on 3 August 2005
Only the present exists, so the philosophers tell us, but for Dave Robicheaux the past is not mysterious, rather it lives with him. This new novel finds Dave initially retired but dwelling on a occurrence many years before when he and his brother were still young when a girl vocalist who helps them survive a brush with drowning disappears. Gentle probing of the past produces an immediate response from two nasty police officers. Their tactics launch Dave back into police work as a Sheriff's Deputy for the newly promoted Helen Soileau. This is one cool relationship that somehow never takes off as it should, one gets the feeling that James Lee Burke is just not sure where this could go. Investigations lead Dave to the Chalon family, a strange brew that has a long history back to the crusades. An interesting triangular tension is set up between the sultry Honoria , Valentine,her journalist brother and Dave. The tectonic plates beneath this triangular structure move viscously and without warning. The entire tale is set against the backdrop of a serial killer working the Baton Rouge parish. Addicts will be pleased that Cletus Purcell still works on the borderlines between law and anarchy, he brings a pleasing complexion to a novel that is particularly dark. Dave's struggle with his demons is put to the test and for a chapter or two one is left on a knife-edge about his success with these demons. During Dave's investigations he meets Molly, lay worker who is known in the community as a nun. Both of these are, in their own way, outcasts and a gravity of attraction pulls them together with, for me at least, surprising results. The novel is as usual well crafted although since Jolie Blon's Bounce I've felt a slight unease, maybe reflecting that of the author. A brilliant experience to read for a glimpse into some dark corners of the soul.
on 3 January 2006
Crusader's Cross marks a stunning return to top form from James Lee Burke after a couple of recent disappointments. Having said that, even Burke's "disappointments" are up there with the best of crime fiction.
Crusader's Cross sees Dave Robicheaux looking back into his youth when he and his half-brother Jimmie were saved from sharks and befriended by the mysterious Ida Durbin in 1958. Jimmie wants her to run away with him, but she disappears and is not seen again.
In 2004, a dying friend hints to Dave that he may have information relating to Ida's disappearance. At the same time, a serial killer is leaving bodies all across Baton Rouge. Dave is driven to investigate Ida's disappearance and pleads with Helen Soileau, now the sherriff of New Iberia, to reinstate him as a detective.
During his search for Ida and the Baton Rouge killer, Dave runs up against the Chalons family who can trace their lineage back to the Crusades. he also meets a nun who, conveniently, has not taken her vows, and forms an interesting relationship with her.
Clete Purcell plays his usual role as Dave's best friend and rent-a-bull in a china shop, and between them, they continue to wreck bars and restaurants and end up barely on the right side of the law!
Burke's writing is tighter than usual, his description of the countryside and environs around New Iberia are stunning, as usual, and there is more maturity than ever in this novel.
My only issue is that, as Dave says in the story, he was 20 in 1958 when Ida disappeared, this would make him at least 66 at the time this story is set. He is still getting the girls, and still beating up the bad guys (although some of them must have been older than him, so perhaps that wasn't too difficult!). Maybe there's hope for all of us...
A marvellous story. Read it and enjoy the pure poetry of Burke's writing at it's peak.
One of the beauties of James Lee Burke's remarkable series about Dave Robicheaux is that we come to live inside Dave's world of turbulent emotions, violent people, dangerous situations and perplexing crimes as though his world is our world. Few authors today can succeed in taking you out of your own life as well as James Lee Burke does, and Crusader's Cross is one of his most successful novels from this perspective.
After a series has gone on for quite a few books, many novelists find themselves stuck for where to take their hero or heroine next. In Crusader's Cross, James Lee Burke essentially restarts Dave as a character by changing his relationships in an unexpected way. If you've liked any of the books in the series, this one is bound to be one of your favorites.
A lot of loving care went into the writing. Sentences are sparse and bare where that evokes the right emotion and other sentences sparkle with bits and pieces of setting and emotion in other cases. Here's a description of a gunshot victim as he realizes he's been shot: "His mouth hung open, his stomach went soft and trembled like a bowl of Jell-O, his eyes fluttered and rolled as he went into shock." Talk about effective writing! You can feel it in your own body.
The story may seem to ramble, but that's the way Dave thinks. It's all part of the story telling . . . which is to help you be Dave.
When Dave and his half-brother Jimmie were just out of school, they found themselves menaced by sharks off the beach in Galveston. Just when they wondered if they would survive, they found themselves saved by a plucky, pretty girl, Ida Durbin. Between her lovely self and her beautiful voice, Jimmie cannot get enough of her. His passion leads to an unexpected fork in the road for their lives and those of many other people.
When Dave asks a few casual questions about Ida Durbin years later, he brings down a whole lot of wrath on his head. If you are like me, you'll find the story's developments to be both surprising and fascinating from there.
If those complications aren't enough, Dave finds himself back as a sworn officer of the law investigating a serial murderer . . . who seems to be taunting the local police about something or other.
What happens to us when we get too much pressure? The results are often not very pretty.
My only complaint about the story is that there is a little too much misleading information placed in various parts, which makes it all but impossible to figure out what's really going on. But it certainly will make you feel sympathetic to Dave as he flounders. I did like the way that the plot has so many unexpected twists and turns. I raced to the end and I'm sure you will too.
on 31 August 2005
Very few writers with a recurring hero have the capacity and the talent to give the readers the feeling that, book after book, we,the hero, the writer and the readers, have aged at the same pace, sharing experience, hope and despair alike,in complete sympathy.
In this latest Robicheaux novel, plot, setting, atmosphere and writing are as good as ever, but there is more to it in the sense that the book conjures up memories of which one finds hard to say whether they are Dave's or James Lee Burke's or ours. And whether or not we have been on Bayou Teche one day is immaterial.We all share the same flight of time as we age, we have been a long way; it has made us nostalgic of days gone by, it makes us worry about the present turn of things, but, on a nice sunny morning, those we love, wife, children or pets, allow us to go on and to preserve some sort of hope, however fragile. James Lee is a great writer.
"Crusader's Cross," (2005), is the fourteenth novel published by American author James Lee Burke in his mighty New York Times bestselling Detective Dave Robicheaux series. Like the earlier books of the series, and most of the series' works to follow, the book, a Southern noir, police procedural/mystery, is set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, more or less home country for Burke, who was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast.
A conversation between Robicheaux and a dying childhood friend about Ida Durbin, a young prostitute that Robicheaux's half-brother, Jimmie, loved and lost in the late 1950s, sets the ex-homicide detective on a path that eventually leads to several gruesome killings. Robicheaux is still living in New Iberia, Louisiana, a small quiet town near New Orleans. He is no longer employed by the local sheriff's office as CRUSAADERS CROSS opens, but, as the body count mounts, he will be asked to return by his former partner, now the sheriff, the widely thought-to-be lesbian Helen Soileau, of whom we will hear much more as the series goes on. The detective no longer lives in the house his father built; it has burnt down. His third wife Bootsie has died of lupus; his adopted daughter Alafair is studying at Oregon's Reed College. Robichaux has sold his nearby boat and bait shop to Batist, the black man who worked there with him, whom we have met many times before and will again. Alafair's pet Tripod, the three-legged raccoon, is very much around, as is Robicheaux's pet cat Snuggs. The detective will meet a politically-active nun he fancies, Molly Boyle. And, to be sure, Clete Purcell, Robicheaux's impulsive former partner on the New Orleans Police Department, an overweight, heavily-drinking, brawling, heavily-scarred survivor of the city's tough Irish Channel neighborhood, (as are the inevitable New Orleans gangsters in any work of Burke's), is always around to help the detective. Robicheaux is of Cajun ancestry, still reliving the nightmare of his service in Vietnam. He has a drinking problem, and a tendency to violence that is exaggerated by his friend and alter-ego Purcel.
This book around, the inevitable New Orleans wise guy is Didi Giacano (Didi Gee), who is typical of Burke's mobsters in that he, too, comes out of the Irish Channel neighborhood, and has been known to the detective Robichaux since their childhoods. And we get Burke's frequently raised thought that the working class Irish Channel accent resembles more, in its heavy Irish influence, the well-known Brooklyn accent than a Southern one. Robichaux's half-brother Jimmie is mentioned for the first time in several books, as is "Streak," the nickname both have been known by in their own circles, referring to a white streak in their dark hair, the result of childhood malnutrition. The boys' parents are also mentioned for the first time in several books.
The wealthy and powerful, local land-owning, blue blooded, handsome, well-educated, and of a prominent, former slave-holding family, is Valentine Chalons, who is, as ever, resident in the local Big House, ruthless and greedy, doesn't care whom he hurts - always characteristic of Burke's similarly situated rich men. And as is also a frequent occurrence in Burke's work, the hated rich man has a relationship with a beautiful woman with whom Robicheaux has a romantic history: but this time it's Chalons' sister Honoria. There's the usual psychotic, funny-looking bad guy killer with the funny name. And Burke continues to give us the odd grotesque character, a sure hallmark of Southern gothic literature. Finally, Burke gives a callout to Michael Connelly, praising his THE BLACK ECHO, first book in Connelly's Bosch series.
Well, you can see, there's a lot of familiar material in this series' entry. Still, Burke continues to write with energy, power, and, as the great 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, passionate intensity. Enough, I think, to hook most readers, and keep them turning the pages. Perhaps, more than anything else, in Burke's work, we'll enjoy some of the most beautiful, knowledgeable writing ever committed to paper about the flora, fauna, geography, and human occupants of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, now so much in the news. In this book, we also get some of Burke's most meltingly beautiful writing as he discusses his, and Robicheaux's salad days in the 1950s: "pink Cadillacs, drive-in movies, stylized street hoods, rock `n'roll, Hank and Lefty on the jukebox, the dirty bop, daylight baseball, chopped down '32 Ford with Merc engines drag-racing in a roar of thunder past drive-in restaurants..."
Burke attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute; later received B. A. and M. A. degrees from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company, a pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps. His work has twice been awarded an Edgar for Best Crime Novel of the Year. At least eight of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers. This author's pen is definitely mightier than any sword.