The New Orleans mob, a crooked film director, and a 40-year-old crucifixion

new orleans mobSunset Limited (Dave Robicheaux #10), by James Lee Burke

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Here’s what to expect from a novel in the Dave Robicheaux series by James Lee Burke: Dave will get himself into trouble by ignoring orders from the Sheriff, his boss, and by disregarding threats from supremely dangerous people. Dave’s former partner in the New Orleans Police Department, Clete Purcell, will make even more trouble for himself. Dave’s partner in his bait shop, Batist, his adopted teenage daughter, Alafair, and his wife, Bootsie, will all make cameo appearances. The New Orleans mob or the Dixie Mafia, and possibly both, will prove to be involved in some nefarious and deadly goings-on in New Iberia Parish, where Dave lives and works. At least one hitman will make multiple attempts to kill Dave or someone close to him. A diverse array of characters will wander in and out of the tale, including ex-convicts, both Black and white, New Orleans mobsters with colorful names, a wealthy and powerful white family, a lesbian deputy sheriff, and perhaps an FBI or DEA agent. And a tragic event many years in the past will be revealed to lie at the heart of a tangle of mysteries now bedeviling Dave.

Now, you might think a formulaic approach like this would quickly grow stale. But the Dave Robicheaux series is anything but stale and predictable. In fact, there’s little that’s predictable in these eminently readable thrillers. The mystery at the core of the plot is so complex that no reader is likely to untangle it before the story’s end. The books’ setting in rural southern Louisiana is lush and steamy, painted in Burke’s evocative, poetic language, and he portrays every character in three dimensions. The dialogue is lively and inventive. In short, James Lee Burke is one of the most accomplished English stylists I’ve encountered anywhere.

In Sunset Limited, the tenth novel in the Dave Robicheaux series, the long-ago event that centers the story is the crucifixion of Jack Flynn, a radical labor organizer, forty years in the past. Flynn’s son and daughter, Cisco and Megan, have just returned to New Iberia in the midst of successful careers elsewhere—Cisco as a film producer, Megan as an award-winning photographer sought all over the world. Cisco has come to produce a film on site in New Iberia with a famous director and a high-priced cast. Unfortunately, the director is nasty and thoroughly unscrupulous, and the Hong Kong Triads are financing the film. Meanwhile, an African-American ex-con named Cool Breeze Broussard has managed to bring in the FBI to investigate his charge of brutality in the local lockup and succeeds in gaining release into the agency’s custody. And there is a connection between Broussard and the film that will not be revealed until much later.

For Dave, the mystery that is causing him to lose sleep involves that forty-year-old crucifixion. Three men were responsible, and he wants to know who they are. As he pursues his investigation, he finds himself deeply ensnared in Cool Breeze’s life and fate, in the questionable activities of the Flynn siblings, and in confrontations with the New Orleans mob, the film director, a wealthy local landowner, and a pair of hitmen who show up in the parish. If you like untangling puzzles, you’ll love Sunset Limited.

James Lee Burke is one of my favorite writers—in any genre. I’ve reviewed many of his books, most recently The master of Louisiana noir and Neo-Nazis, the Jewish Defense League, and a sunken Nazi submarine.

 

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Mal Warwick