Monday, March 18, 2019
At the age of 82, James Lee Burke is still churning out novels. The New Iberia Blues is the 22nd installment in a series of detective mysteries that began in 1987, when Burke introduced Dave Robicheaux to readers.
Robicheaux is a complex protagonist, a man of principle and honor, a Louisiana native who spoke French with his parents. He is a man who had his soul and psyche seared during a combat stint in Vietnam, by years walking a beat in New Orleans, then as a homicide detective in New Iberia. Robicheaux has seen the worst depravity and violence people are capable of. He’s been married three times; two of his wives died violently. As if this isn’t enough weight for one man to carry, Robicheaux is also a recovering alcoholic, as regular an attendee at AA meetings as he is at mass. His battle against the desire for Jim Beam shots and beer chasers is as constant as the recurring dreams he has about Vietnam and his dead wives.
James Lee Burke is a literary craftsman. He brings the landscape and people of southern Louisiana to life, the bayous and cane fields, the gum trees and old plantation homes and shotgun houses, the smell of gas on the breeze and the sound of rain beating on a tin roof.
Like every book in this remarkable series, The New Iberia Blues presents Robicheaux and his closest friend and ex-partner, Clete Purcell, with grisly murders and numerous characters with potential motive and opportunity, clues that point in more than one direction, and circumstances that test Robicheaux’s resolve and restraint. Undergirding it all is a sense of profound loss on Robicheaux’s part: “The world I came from is dead and the land I’ve loved all my life is strewn with litter and our water is polluted and our principles are for sale.”