Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Image of Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel
Release Date: 
July 17, 2012
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: 

“. . . the most poignant portrait of Robicheaux in this exceptional series.”

Languishing in a recovery unit on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, Dave Robicheaux is fighting an enemy more insidious than the one who put a bullet in his back a month earlier in a shootout on Bayou Teche.

The morphine meant to dull his pain is steadily gnawing away at his resolve, playing tricks on his mind, and luring him back into the addict’s mentality that once threatened to destroy his life and family.

With the soporific Indian summer air wafting through the louvered shutters of his hospital room and the demons fighting for space in his head, Robicheaux can’t be sure whether his latest visitor is flesh and blood or a spectral reminder of his Louisiana youth. Tee Jolie Melton, a young woman with a troubled past, glides to his bedside and leaves him with an iPod that plays the old country blues song “My Creole Belle.”

What Robicheaux doesn’t yet know is that Tee Jolie disappeared weeks ago, and no one believes she reappeared to comfort an old man with a bullet wound.

Robicheaux becomes obsessed with the song and the vivid memory of Tee Jolie, and when he learns that her sister has turned up dead inside a block of ice floating in the Gulf, putting the evils of the past to rest is more urgent than ever.

Meanwhile, an oil spill in the Gulf brings back intense feelings for Robicheaux of losing his father to a rig explosion years ago.

As the oil companies continue to risk human lives in pursuit of wealth and power, Robicheaux begins to see suspicious links to the Melton sisters—even when no one else shares his suspicions.

Robicheaux’s ex-partner and best friend, the violent, alcoholic ex-police officer and private investigator/bail-bondsman, Cletus Purcel, helps him search for Tee Jolie—Purcel all the while fearing for his friend’s mental health and safety.

And Purcel has his own troubles: Some local wise guys are trying to blackmail him, and he worries that his lost daughter, Gretchen, could be a notorious contract killer—who may have set her sights on someone he loves dearly. . . .

As Robicheaux and Purcel team up again to take on an assortment of deadly foes, including corrupt politicians, immoral oil men, and a wealthy old man whom they suspect is a Nazi war criminal, they begin to understand the human limitations of their own mortality:

“We were out-of-step and out-of-sync with the world and with ourselves, and knowing this we held on to each other like two men in a gale, the fire burning so brightly behind us that the backs of our necks glowed with the heat.”

Dave Robicheaux is a fascinating warts-and-all character, fallible but buoyed with an ardent belief in right and wrong; he tells it like it is and to hell with the consequences. Once an officer in the New Orleans police department, he consistently breaches the ethical code over the course of every case he works on. He’s also a recovering alcoholic, with demons from service in Vietnam, and regularly experiences periods of dark depression, intensified by the murder of his wife.

Creole Belle begins where the last Robicheaux book, The Glass Rainbow, ended, but works as a standalone novel despite the continuation of previous threads and themes.

Creole Belle also paints the most poignant portrait of Robicheaux in this exceptional series. Few contemporary writers can match the natural flow of Mr. Burke’s mellifluous prose and poetic descriptions of Louisiana, its people, landscape, smells, customs, and pathos. With Creole Belle, James Lee Burke once again shows why he’s not only a modern master, but also why he is peerless in the genre of crime writing.