James Lee Burke is one of the most prolific and profound of American contemporary writers. His perception of the world derives from the perspective of New Orleans. Shaded by the experiences of mankind at its best and worst, this place of great beauty and cultural heritage is infected by the tradition of slavery and the chasm between wealth and poverty, the advantages of the rich versus the despair of the poor. Post-Katrina New Orleans has changed, but its endemic flair for graft has simply found new opportunities for exploiting the rich geography where sin frolics around the prayerful wails of the faithful.
This is hands-down Burke territory, embodied in the character of Dave Robicheaux—flawed man, ex-drunk, husband and father. Recuperating in a New Orleans hospital after his latest gunshot wound, he is visited by a Tee Jolie Melton, a Cajun songstress currently gone missing, as is her younger sister, Blue. Dave mentions the visit to his old friend Clete Purcel, a larger-than-life P.I. with appetites to match. The two men were once known as “the Bobbsey Twins from Homicide.” Now Clete is being dogged for a decades-old gambling marker sold to Bix Golightly and his side man, Waylon Grimes.
Golightly is threatening to take Clete’s office building in lieu of money Purcel doesn’t owe, an untenable situation and one not likely to resolve itself without bloodshed. Dave reluctantly tracks down the sellers of the marker while also searching for information about Tee Jolie, still on a half-day schedule at the New Iberia Parish Police Department since the injury, to the dismay of Sheriff Helen Soileau. All answers lead to a powerful, wealthy family: Pierre Dupree and his grandfather, Alexis Dupree. Living in a parish that is virtually an island fiefdom, Robicheaux suspects the Duprees are hiding an ugly history behind the benevolent façade of plantation-owner largesse: “Evil does not rinse itself out of the human soul.” He isn’t sure what exactly is going on, but is determined to find out.
As Clete’s problems escalate and Dave is drawn into another case that wife Molly is convinced will only get him into more trouble, Burke reinforces the quality of the friendship that has bound the two men together, the absolute trust they have in one another and the tests that will visit that commitment this time. Both feel the call of the Creole Belle, the steamboat filled with a merry band of familiar ghosts, of risk pushed too far to the edge and the possibility of not making it back this time. But everything valuable is at stake for Clete, including the daughter he didn’t know existed—who may be a contract killer. Even Robicheaux realizes the danger of not confronting the pure evil taunting them in the form of the Duprees.
Wrapped in the colorful human tapestry that is New Orleans, with its crooks, cronies and eccentric characters, rich cultural past and music that tugs at the heart, Burke’s novel is an irresistible foray into a particular world, where good and evil dance in tandem, the devil fiddling a tune, Robicheaux the iconic Don Quixote with Purcel by his side, ready to slay the dragons one more time.