Review: 'Creole Belle' is heart-pounding thriller

Associated Press
This book cover image released by Simon & Schuster shows "Creole Belle," a novel by James Lee Burke. (AP Photo/Simon & Schuster)
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This book cover image released by Simon & Schuster shows "Creole Belle," a novel by James Lee Burke. …

"Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel" (Simon & Schuster), by James Lee Burke

Dave Robicheaux, a police detective in New Iberia, La., and his huge and dangerous sidekick, Clete Purcell, are back at it, battling the evil forces that corrupt and despoil their beloved Southern Louisiana.

When we last left them in "The Glass Rainbow," they were both near death, shot to pieces in a gunfight on the Bayou Teche. Now, as "Creole Belle" opens, Robicheaux is still in the hospital with a morphine drip in his arm — not the best thing for a man who's battled substance abuse all his life.

Dave cannot be sure, then, whether it is Tee Jolie Melton or a morphine-induced vision that appears at his bedside and gives him an iPod that plays the old blues song "My Creole Belle."

But when Dave recovers enough to check out of the hospital against doctor's orders, he discovers that Tee Jolie, a local Cajun lounge singer, is missing. And before long, her sister is murdered, the body mysteriously washing ashore inside a huge block of ice.

The fate of the sisters isn't all that's troubling Dave and Clete. A huge oil spill is polluting the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. A bookmaker is demanding that Clete pay off an old $30,000 marker that he doesn't really owe. And a young woman, who may be Clete's long-lost daughter, is gunning down low-level mobsters in New Orleans.

Clete has been Dave's sidekick for 19 books, but until now he's been the second banana. In "Creole Belle," he's given such a large role that the new novel is more his book than Dave's.

As the story unfolds, the two friends gradually discover that their troubles are somehow tied up in a larger conspiracy involving a major art-theft ring, sex slavery, corrupt oil company executives and the never-ending pillaging of Louisiana.

Dave and Clete, who have always been outgunned on their Quixiotic quests for justice, are acutely aware of their own mortality now, and have grown a bit long in the tooth for this kind of work. But they see the thing through to a violent, guns-blazing conclusion.

All the characters, including Dave's daughter Alafair and the duplicitous Dupree family, are superbly drawn, and the plot is heart-pounding, so the novel is sure to be embraced by author James Lee Burke's fans. However, it includes so many references to earlier adventures that newcomers are advised to start with previous books in this great crime fiction series.

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Online:

http://www.jamesleeburke.com/

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Bruce DeSilva, winner of the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award, is the author of "Cliff Walk" and "Rogue Island."

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