"...those who enjoy the darker side of the genre are in for some serious thrills with this..."
Laura Wilson, The Guardian
Published in the UK by Polygon (March 19th, '09) and in the US by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Nov '09).
James Lee Burke's Crusader's Cross
Why James Lee Burke is a National Treasure and Dave Robicheaux could probably beat the crap out of Travis McGee...
review by Harry Shannon
Like a lot of us, I’m a book addict. No libraries for me, either. I have biblio-gotta-own-it-itis. Oh, I can and do abstain from time to time, but when the craving hits and I find myself prowling a bookstore or scanning the internet like a porn hound, mostly looking for the same old thrill dressed up like it’s something I’ve never seen before.
When I saw that James Lee Burke had a new Dave Robicheaux in the pipeline, my heart kicked, my palms went sweaty, and my credit card trembled.
See, James Lee Burke is a bit like Al Pacino. Both are national treasures. Every time I see a new Pacino performance, I realize that although I’ve seen these moves before, they’ve never been put together in exactly that way.
When you open a new Dave Robicheaux novel, you know you’re going to get an enormously evocative description of the weather ("the sky was purple, streaked with fire, the palm trees like scorched tin cutouts against the sun") oddball characters with unusual names (Valentine Chalons, Simon Labiche, Jigger Babineau) a convoluted plot that is likely to involve organized crime, sins of the flesh, the corruption of the rich and powerful, and alcoholism. Oh, with just a sprinkle of the mystical and the numinous thrown in for good measure.
"Crusader’s Cross" begins when Dave Robicheaux is a teenager, working with his half-brother Jimmy for a doodlebug outfit, laying cable in the ocean. The two boys meet a wounded young lady named Ida Durbin. Jimmy falls hard, and his devastated to learn Ms. Durbin is a working prostitute. He decides to pay off her pimp and run away with her, but Ida vanishes before his plan goes into effect.
As the novel hits its stride, in 2005, Ida Durbin is a long-ago memory, a woman Jimmy chooses to believe has gone on to have a successful singing career.
When her name comes up during an investigation, Dave, on the other hand, comes to believe Ida was murdered.
As usual, Dave ends up enlisting the help of his disturbed, misanthropic throwback of a friend Clete Purcell. Clete is a periodic alcoholic. Hanging around him is downright dangerous for the long-sober Robicheaux, but there is a strange bond between these two. Dave holds himself back from violence whenever he can manage to find the self-restraint. Purcell just reacts and acts. He’s as casual as a predator on the African veldt.
Dave’s investigation leads him to a family called the Chalon’s. A family that made and sustained a fortune running houses of ill repute in the New Orleans area. He presses, pushes and annoys…as usual. The family responds by putting out a hit on Dave ("sending up a kite") and the deadly confrontation that results brings Robicheaux to the edge of relapse. Along the way Dave meets, falls for and ultimately beds a nun named Molly Boyle.
Not only would it be virtually impossible to summarize the book—subplots include returning to the New Iberia PD, a serial killer stalking local women, race relations and the Giacano Family—but I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone of the pleasure of discovery. Buy it. Read it. In fact, if you haven’t already done so, read everything this man has ever written.
I’m a recovering drunk with a mean streak that has led to a lot of guilt, much like Robicheaux, but without the trail of corpses. Thankfully, I’ve been sober nearly twenty years. No one, not even Lawrence Block, does as magnificent a job of describing dry drunk and alcoholic rage as James Lee Burke. The violence in his novels is poetic, yet visceral—so beautifully described, yet disturbing and ugly as well. This isn’t the clever choreography of some movie fight. It is the down-and-dirty grunt of a street brawl. Even John MacDonald’s Travis McGee would have a tough time up against Dave and Clete, the "Bobsy Twins of Homicide," when they’re righteously pissed.
(As an aside, I’m always in awe of the way Mr. Burke deals with bodily fluids, broken bones, smashed facial features, dead bodies and various odors without resorting to language that is predictable or in the least bit crass. Amazing).
Prejudiced? Okay, you’ve got me. I love these books. Some (like "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead," "The Neon Rain," and others) I’ve read more than once. Burke offers a unique vision, a rhapsodic love of nature, the perfect fusion of poetry and violence, and a strong moral vision of the universe. Dave Robicheaux is a complex man, drawn to the dark side, who’s forever struggling to hold onto the better angels of his nature. He’s us.
Who could ask for anything more?
Copyright © 2006 Harry Shannon
Read an extract from Harry's novel, Eye Of The Burning Man
HARRY SHANNON has been an actor, a singer, an Emmy-nominated songwriter, a recording artist in Europe, a music publisher, a film studio executive, an acclaimed author of horror fiction, and a freelance Music Supervisor on films such as Basic Instinct and Universal Soldier. He is currently a counselor in private practice. Shannon's short fiction has appeared in a number of genre magazines, including Cemetery Dance, Horror Garage, City Slab, Futures, Crime Spree, Lenox Avenue and Gothic.net. Shannon's script Dead And Gone was recently filmed by director Yossi Sasson, for Dark Haze Productions. His first Mick Callahan novel, Memorial Day, is also available from Five Star Publishing.