Like Tony Squid, a gangster and psychopath, James Lee Burke’s latest novel wraps its greedy tentacles around New Iberia and squeezes hard on our favorite detective, Dave Robicheaux.
He lost his beloved wife, Molly, to a hit and run two years ago, and now is a suspect in the murder of the perpetrator. He remembers little of that night because he had slipped off the wagon, and blacked out.
But even bigger, more sinister fish swim here: The patrician Jimmy Nightingale aspires to the U.S. Senate in a state where “demagoguery has been a given; misogamy and racism and homophobia have become religious virtues, and self-congratulatory ignorance has become a source of pride.” He’s abetted by his sultry sister Emmeline.
“Why are you two always at the center of other people’s misfortune when you never seem to pay dues yourself?” asks Robicheaux.
Meanwhile Tony Squid is bankrolling a film, based on a story by local novelist Levon Broussard. And Robicheaux’s daughter, an author in her own right who’s home for a spell to check on her dad, agrees to write the script.
Like most Burke yarns, Robicheaux is messy and complex. And gets even more so when the author introduces the finest creep of his career: the ingenious and diabolical Smiley, a little man so nondescript that no one sees him other than children and the corpses he leaves in his wake. “He made me think of Truman Capote without the blubber,” Alafair tells her father after a brief encounter (Smiley told her he admired her novels!).
Toss in Robicheaux’s sidekick and conscience Clete Purcell, a corrupt cop, and the steamy bayous of southern Louisiana and you have a story only Burke could write, wise and gripping, haunted and prescient. A moral story for a world without a compass.
Burke, who lives in Missoula, has written 36 novels and two collections of short stories. The two-time winner of the Edgar Award was lauded by The New York Times as “the reigning champ of nostalgia noir,” and by the Denver Post simply as “America’s best novelist.” Learn more at www.jamesleeburke.com.
– Kristi Niemeyer