Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Crusader's Cross: A Dave Robicheaux Novel.
Crusader’s Cross begins with the narrator and protagonist, David Robicheaux, reminiscing about the past, when he and his half-brother, Jimmie, were young in 1958, an age of innocence for the USA (or perhaps it was just him who was innocent). He recalls an event pertinent to plot: he and his brother swam out too far to a sandbar to suddenly find the fin of a shark piercing the water around them. They debate whether or not to just swim for it, hoping to reach shore, when a young girl named Ida rows up and rescues them.
Jimmie is instantly smitten with the young Ida. Ida is a singer, mandolin player, and (unspoken by her) a prostitute under the thumb of her pimp, working out of a house on Post Office Street. This knowledge comes to the boys later, but Jimmie’s heart remains with Ida. The two are separated only by her abrupt disappearance. Her mandolin is smashed, there is blood on a chair, and Ida is gone.
Probably murdered. But her disappearance goes unsolved for years. Decades pass, and Dave Robicheaux is now an ex-detective, retired from the New Orleans Police Department. He is also a recovering alcoholic.
An acquaintance of Dave’s gets in a fight and is stabbed. Dying, he makes a confession to Dave, telling him that Ida was “snatched up” by the Galveston cops (the acquaintance’s uncle was on the Galveston Police Department). Dave, who has wondered for years about (and felt some guilt over) the disappearance of the girl, contacts his friend, an ex-cop-turned-P.I named Clete Purcel, and an investigation into the “cold case” is on. Dave also contacts his brother Jimmie. Jimmie has always believed that Ida remained alive to sing and make music on her fiddle.
Clete Purcel is one of the toughest and “beyond-the-law” cops that ever existed, and Dave is not far behind. Burke describes Clete as having committed mayhem against the bad guys and doing so in a “blithe, carefree spirit, like a unicorn on purple acid crashing good-naturedly through a clock shop.”
There is, as it turns out, also a serial killer on the prowl, abducting and killing woman at random, taking them from their very homes as they return from shopping for groceries or tend to the garden in broad daylight. And there is the Chalons family, the richest family in the area with many secrets to hide. They are, as Dave and Clete begin to understand, somehow connected to the long-ago disappearance (and murder?) of Jimmie’s Ida.
Crusader’s Cross is a complex mystery with many twists and turns, written in Burke’s lyrical prose. Burke presents us with the sights and sounds and smells of the bayou, so well that at times we can smell the water and even feel the mosquitoes biting us as we watch the sun set in the evening. Dave Robicheaux is a good but flawed man, trying his best to do right in a world that constantly forces or entices a man to do otherwise. Very highly recommended; there is no better writer of mysteries around today than James Lee Burke.