The past is the past, a review of ‘Robicheaux’

  • Friday, January 12, 2018 1:45pm
  • Life

You don’t want to talk about it.

You’ve been through rough times, had a few problems, but that’s all in the past. Today’s a new day, a new beginning and besides, as in the new book “Robicheaux” by James Lee Burke, what happened yesterday could get someone killed.

Though few would know the demons he’d met, Dave Robicheaux of the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department was a haunted man.

Dead pets came through Robicheaux’s back yard and Viet Cong faces disappeared in a mist of blood in his dreams. He was haunted by his past and his future, by the accident that killed his beloved wife, Molly, and by crimes that angered him.

And so, Robicheaux drank, even though he was an alcoholic, even though he pretended he didn’t want booze, even when drinking may have made him kill a man.

Or maybe he didn’t.

It started because Tony Nine Ball, a dying one-time mobster, wanted an introduction to one of New Iberia’s famous residents. He knew Robicheaux could make things happen and information was his currency. It was information that Robicheaux didn’t want and he drank until he blacked out and sometime while he was busy forgetting, T.J. Dartez, the man who’d killed Molly, was beaten and stomped to death.

Evidence pointed to Robicheaux and truthfully, he couldn’t say he didn’t do it. Just to be cautious, Sheriff Helen Soileau gave the case to an ambitious department low-life, Spade Labisch, a smarmy transplant from Miami who might or might not be “dirty,” and that, too, rubbed Robicheaux the wrong way.

A lot of things did those days. People hid secrets, withheld information, made promises they couldn’t or wouldn’t keep. Kids were abused. Politicians lied, and ghosts came in from the bayou while Robicheaux watched. But he knew one thing: the doughy killer with the lipstick-red mouth who called himself “Smiley” was no ghost.

And a few bloody crime scenes proved there was nothing to smile about…

Into every mystery, a little life must fall. And in “Robicheaux,” it topples like a one-legged stool – but first, author James Lee Burke really lets readers get to know his main character.

Yes, we’ve gotten snips and bits of Dave Robicheaux’s story through other books with him as hero, but this one lets the detective show messiness, as well as vulnerability; we also get a better glimpse of Clete Purcel, Robicheaux’s best friend, who’s likewise not the cleanest cop in literature. Bad guys pepper this book, in fact, and some of them are more reprehensible than normal but all are cushioned by Burke’s beautiful storytelling. Though the tale stays around a little too long (and it drags about 50 pages from the end), you’ll be happy to know that there’s a fine almost-scream-NO! moment that’ll truly have fans guessing.

You can read this book as part of the series, or you can read it as a standalone. And of course, you can always introduce it to your book group because “Robicheaux” is a book you’ll want to talk about.

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