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The New Iberia Blues: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Review

The New Iberia Blues: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

THE NEW IBERIA BLUES, among the first books to be published in 2019, will be a Top 10 favorite of mine by the end of the year. That might seem like a tall prophecy to fulfill until one considers that it is written by James Lee Burke. Now in his sixth decade of writing, Burke continues to present some of his best work with each new novel. That would be a remarkable achievement all by itself, but it does not quite fully describe what Burke has done here, which is to bring his considerable plotting, descriptive and characterization chops (which are always at a fine and sharp edge) to full power from beginning to end, slicing through and between genres --- mystery, romance and thriller --- and ultimately rendering such classifications immaterial.

This is arguably one of Burke’s most complex (though not complicated) works to date. The tale snakes smoothly through the past and present of Dave Robicheaux, the troubled but upright protagonist, whose personality and character have been developed by Burke over the course of 22 books. For Robicheaux, a detective with the New Iberia, Louisiana police, the story begins on a fateful morning when he responds to vague and somewhat contradictory 911 calls concerning a woman possibly in distress on Cypremort Point on Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay.

"THE NEW IBERIA BLUES, among the first books to be published in 2019, will be a Top 10 favorite of mine by the end of the year.... This is arguably one of Burke’s most complex (though not complicated) works to date."

Desmond Cormier and Robicheaux are anything but strangers. They first met when Cormier was a struggling amateur artist on Jackson Square in New Orleans and Robicheaux was a foot patrolman. Cormier shared his dream of being a Hollywood filmmaker with Robicheaux back in the day, and has fulfilled that seemingly unattainable goal. As it happens, the distress calls center on the stilt house that Cormier maintains on Cypremort Point.

When Robicheaux and young deputy Sean McClain arrive on the scene, they find Cormier with his friend, a somewhat unsettling individual named Antoine Butterworth. All seems in order until Robicheaux’s reconnaissance of the area results in the discovery of the body of a woman who appears to have been ritualistically executed. In the weeks that follow, she will not be the last. Robicheaux investigates the chain of crimes with newly minted deputy Bailey Ribbons, a 28-year-old who is making the transition from a middle school teacher to a law enforcement officer. While the two of them make for an almost perfect professional pairing, the thrice-widowed Robicheaux is aware of the almost instant physical attraction between them, which Ribbons welcomes, even as he finds their age difference to be an all-but-insurmountable chasm.

Meanwhile, their investigation does not lack for suspects, one of whom manages to insinuate himself into Robicheaux’s own household. It seems that everyone has a secret or two that connects to the series of murders, whether in the past or present. When a prior nemesis of Robicheaux --- one of Burke’s most intriguing antagonists --- makes an appearance seemingly from beyond the grave, it creates an obstacle that is by turns nearly impossible to overcome and almost certainly deadly for all concerned. Clete Purcell is on hand to help, as is Robicheaux’s daughter, Alafair. But this time their combined efforts may not be enough and may in fact make things worse. The conclusion to this story --- one of Burke’s finest --- is as poignant as you are likely to read in this or any year, even as mercy is given and justice is done.

About that ending... Let me point out that when Purcell affectionately addresses Robicheaux as “noble mon,” he is not saying it as an empty term of endearment. It is, in Burke’s strong but gentle hands, as accurate a description of someone as you are likely to encounter. Of perhaps equal significance is that the classic film My Darling Clementine is frequently referenced during the course of the book, with the latter not so much paying tribute to the former as using it as a palimpsest of sorts while standing firmly and equally on its own. I assure you that it doesn’t get any better than THE NEW IBERIA BLUES --- until Burke’s next novel, of course.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 11, 2019

The New Iberia Blues: A Dave Robicheaux Novel
by James Lee Burke

  • Publication Date: January 8, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501176870
  • ISBN-13: 9781501176876