New Iberia, Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux doesn't think that the most likely suspect in the murder of a teenage girl is really the killer. But the clues from a second body all point to him. Before Robicheaux can bring the true killer to justice, he must battle a painkiller addiction and soon what begins as a duel of wits turns into a dance of death.
And even the ‘good guys’ were kind of awful. Dave is an alcoholic who resorts to violence whenever policy couldn’t work. His buddy, and ex cop, Clete is equally awful. Then there were a bunch of other people who were just brutal and had no class and lived hand to mouth. I can’t explain it. It was depressing.
Turned out that while Tee Bobby didn’t do the actual deed, he stood by while someone else killed one woman. The other was killed by a traveling bible salesman, but he wasn’t convicted. I was expecting Legion to have a huge revenge scheme do away with his ass, but no. Dave and the mysterious drifter who claims he was the medic that saved Dave’s life in Vietnam, chase Legion into a swamp and he is struck by lightning. Damn – ripped off! I wanted greater satisfaction. I wanted him to pay. He was a gross, degenerate and cruel man. He should have paid more than just getting struck by lightning.
I'd like to tell you that everything works out in the end of this book, but that's not always Burke's way. He's realistic about the deeply entrenched racism and poverty that hold sway in Louisiana, and he's not always optimistic that something that deep can ever be overcome. There was a quote early on in this book that stuck in my head, and I'm having a hard time coming to terms with it:
I came to learn early on that no venal or meretricious enterprise existed without a community's consent.
I'll be chewing on that for a while, I think.
If you can stomach hardboiled mysteries with a tortured hero who makes mistakes, I definitely recommend Burke's books. He's a marvelous writer, and Louisiana is as much a character in these stories as Dave or Clete Purcel or Batist. He's been called the Faulkner of detective fiction, and I understand why; the comparisons are evident both in his themes and in the quality of his storytelling. But these are not books for the faint of heart. Be prepared.
Dave is working at the New Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office with Helen Soileau as his partner. The story begins with the rape and murder of Amanda Boudreau a beautiful 16 year old girl. This crime starts Dave on a journey through the past of New Iberia Parish. We learn the story of Julian LaSalle. He was rich and respected then his wife was killed when their house burned down and she was locked in her room. Julian later went into town had a nice dinner at the hotel and then did a swan dive from the eighth floor balcony.
Legion had run the plantation for Julian LaSalle. His full name is Legion Guidry but everyone just calls him Legion. He is an ignorant violent man who carries his own brand of evil and speaks in tongues. Ladice Hulin was Julian's black mistress and later Legion's property. Her grandson is Tee Bobby Hulin a prime suspect in the murder. Jolie Blon's Bounce is a song written by Tee Bobby who is trying to use his talent to get away from his life in New Iberia before it destroys him.
The present generation of the LaSalle family is represented by Perry LaSalle. He is a hot shot criminal defense lawyer who drives a fancy car and has an office full of Civil War heirlooms. Perry has a history of relationships with women that flare up and end quickly. The past follows him in the form of unexplained visits to his office from Legion.
The second murder victim is Linda Zeroski a street corner prostitute with three years of college. Her father Joe Zeroski, is an ex button man for the Giancana family who comes to New Iberia to hunt her murderer. He doesn't find the murderer but his companion in crime Frankie Dogs is murdered sitting on a toilet.
Clete Purcel is present bigger than life. He is a man who is as complex and violent as Dave. He gets his heart broken twice and pulls Dave off of a man he is trying to kill with his bare hands. Another character of note is Marvin Oates. He goes around town pulling his sample case of Bibles and magazines on a roller skate with his own brand of religion that makes up his conversation. When he takes his shirt off his back is covered with pock marked scars from cigarette burns.
Dave and Legion cross paths and the emotional fallout cranks up Dave's inner voice and his urge to drink. Violence and hurt come into the story early and often creating a fast paced tale that entertains as it takes you to places you might not choose to go. The only light moment is Sal Angelo a Vietnam vet who claims to have saved Dave's life. We first see him as a burnout covered with five years of dirt and grime. When we last see him he is cleaned up and doing a good deed before he disappears into the dark.
James Lee Burke is a very good writer. This novel is dominated by the characters and their stories. The tone is hard boiled and gritty. There is not much of the pretty scenery Burke often weaves through his writing. A lot of the story takes place inside various jails and the book is permeated with the darkness you find in there. The epilogue wraps up the loose ends and everybody you care about is all right, for now.
The story is around rape and murder. Someone is accused, but Dave Robicheaux, the main character, isn't sure they've got the right guy. The more he digs, the more tangled things become.
I enjoyed it, but the end did have a bit of deux ex machina to wrap things up. A little too quick after the big set-up of the whole story. It seemed a bit forced as if Burke just wanted to be done with the story.
It held my attention.