Click here to read reviewer Mary B. Stuart's take on Crusader's Cross: A Dave Robicheaux Novel.
The latest Robicheaux novel harkens back to Dave's youth with his look-alike half-brother, Jimmie the Gent, the two working on the Louisiana-Texas coastline. It is there in the sweltering summer of 1958 that Dave and Jimmie meet the flippant Ida Durbin. In a surprising encounter, Ida saves the brothers, who are stranded on a sandbar, slowly circled by a shark with deadly intentions.
Jimmie falls head-over-heels with the slightly-older but charming Ida, despite her evasiveness about her job and address. Later Jimmie discovers that Ida is a lady of the evening in the notorious Post Office Street in Galveston. Regardless, he hopes to buy Ida out of bondage run away with her to Mexico, but Ida disappears and is never heard from again.
Dave never forgets Ida or the mysterious circumstances of her disappearance, the memory often resurfacing, his sin of omission "like the rusty head of a hatchet buried in the heartwood of a tree- it eventually finds the teeth of a whining saw blade." Forty years later, news of Ida's fate comes from an unexpected source.
As a recovering alcoholic retired from the Sheriff's Department of New Iberia Parish, Dave can't afford to focus his thoughts on the past, his history littered with violence, mayhem and two dead wives; but once the hook is in, instincts takes over. Dave's old friend Clete Purcell, formerly of the New Orleans Police Department, has opened his own P.I. firm. Purcell has his own history of dead bodies, criminal acts and vigilantism, but, flying in the face of reason, Robicheaux decides to pay his pal a visit with Ida Durbin heavy on his mind.
With Clete Purcell in tow, Dave mixes it up from New Iberia to New Orleans, dealing with such colorful characters as the Chalons family (organized crime), Nig Rosewater and Wee Willie Bimstine (bail bondsmen), Bad Texas Bob Cobb (a cop on the pad) and Jigger Babineau (mob muscle). Suddenly Dave is the subject of intense interest and the object of violence; given the circumstances, Robicheaux temporarily takes his shield back from the New Iberia P.D.
Adding to the mix, Dave becomes romantically involved with Molly Boyle, a nun who never took her vows. Even when her work and reputation are imperiled, Molly is not adverse to Robicheaux's charms. Between Ida's past and a recent series of related murders of women in Baton Rouge, Robicheaux's life is filled with gangsters, long-buried insidious secrets and the recurring chaos that follows him everywhere, all the demons he walked away from returning for one more pitched battle.
The evil creeps out at night, and even the weary Robicheaux can't ignore the call to justice for the powerless and unrequited. Thugs, murderers and disappeared prostitutes are all part of the Robicheaux lexicon, the dark heart of violence buried in a South that seethes with conflicted loyalties and the tentacles of organized crime against a landscape of breathtaking beauty, the author's characters infused with authenticity. Is this one of Burke's best or another exercise in a well-worn vein, the intrepid Robicheaux reaching the end of his tether? Not as long as there are loyal readers who appreciate a little seasoning in their heroes.