The New Iberia Blues

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 08 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

James Lee Burke has done it again.  In his masterful hands a police procedural becomes a treatise on modern America without ever being slow, boring or preachy.  Set in the bayous of southern Louisiana, Detective Dave Robicheaux fights the good fight, while also dealing with personal problems such as the deaths of his wives, and flashbacks to his time as a soldier in Viet Nam.  This is the twenty-second book, and Dave is older, perhaps a little wiser, but just as ruminative about what he sees in the society around him.

I don’t like spoilers, so I am not going to give any.  Be assured though that this book is full of interesting, and sometimes scary characters; that like all of the Robicheaux books it has its dark aspects, and that Clete Purcell, Dave’s old partner from when they were both police officers in New Orleans has his part to play.  I have often thought that Clete is who Robicheaux might have been without his religious sense and discipline, and if he had not had the great good luck to be loved by some special women.

As always, southern Louisiana, raped, despoiled and degraded, is an overarching character in this book.  The reader can feel Burke’s pain at what has been done to his birth state, and the sympathy which he has for those who are trying to live good lives there.  He pulls no punches, and makes no excuses.  In the person of Dave Robicheaux we see an avatar of ourselves, without it ever costing Robicheaux’s flawed but valiant humanity.  This book, as with all of the others in the series, is well worth reading on a number of levels, and I highly recommend it.
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The New Iberia Blues, the twenty-second novel in the long-running, critically acclaimed Detective Robicheaux mystery series, is a compelling, immersive and gripping reading experience and fun, fast and fabulous. Having come across it on a number of "best crime novels of January" lists, I was exceptionally excited, and boy did it turn out to be a great choice for the opening week of 2019! Although the premise is one that has been recycled a million times over, Burke seems particularly adept at luring you in with intriguing characters, an action-packed plot and an expertly judged pace and keeping you in that vice until the last line has been devoured.

One of the many outstanding features of this story, and the one that illustrates just how powerful and visual Burke's writing is, is the immaculate sense of time and place he portrays. I was transported to the places described, saw the things the characters saw and smelled exactly what they did. It was all so vivid and the details so captivating that I found it almost impossible to put the book down and rumbled through it in a single,  memorable sitting. Given that this series first began in 1987 with The Neon Rain, you'll be pleased to know that each instalment works perfectly well on its own. Add to all of this a good dose of humour and you've got a book well worth investing some time in. 

Many thanks to Simon & Schuster for an ARC.
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The New Iberia Blues by James Lee Burke shines with beautiful prose. This is a tale about a search for a possible serial killer in the bayous of Louisiana. Dave Robicheaux is the detective leading the investigation of people from the backwoods, Hollywood types, the mafia etc. This novel did not do it for me. I have quit after 200 pages, which is something I have a lot of trouble doing. The author has written many books about Detective Dave Robicheaux and this was only my second. I found that there were too many characters, which slowed down the action considerably. This is only my opinion. James Lee Burke is a much praised and popular author. Thank you to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for the e-ARC in exchange for an honest opinion.
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This is one of the greatest writers in modern times. If you like dark stories with a mystery Burke is the author for you. The New Iberia Blues is one of the best books I've read in the last year and I hope he will write some more. If you should like this you can also check out The Red River Mystery series by Reavis Wortham.
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New Iberia Blues is the twenty-second addition to the Dave Robicheaux series, which I will love till the day I die. The Denver Post has called Burke “America’s best novelist,” and the Mystery Writers of America made him a Grand Master. Big thanks go to Net Galley and Simon and Schuster for the review copy. This book will be for sale January 8, 2019. 

The qualities that have made Burke’s writing famous include his lyrical prose, particularly with regard to setting, and a host of memorable characters, often with quirky names. His bad guys are wealthy and often come from Hollywood to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, where the series is set, but he often also features a character or two that works for the wrong side, but is complicated and has redeeming qualities. All of these things hold true for this novel, which is one of Burke’s best. 

Dave Robicheaux is a cop in New Iberia, Louisiana, a senior citizen, thrice widowed and lonesome when our novel begins. Then an old acquaintance comes home after making it big:


“Desmond Courmier’s success story was an improbable one, even among the many self-congratulatory rags-to-riches tales we tell ourselves in the ongoing saga of our green republic, one that is forever changing yet forever the same, a saga that also includes the grades of Shiloh and cinders from aboriginal villages. That is not meant to be a cynical statement. Desmond’s story was a piece of Americana, assuring us that wealth and a magical kingdom are available to the least of us, provided we do not awaken our own penchant for breaking our heroes on a medieval wheel and revising them later, safely downwind from history.
“Desmond was not only born to privation, in the sleeper of a semi in which his mother tied off the umbilical cord and said goodbye forever; he was nurtured by his impoverished grandparents on the Chitimacha Indian Reservation in the back room of a general store that was hardly more than an airless shack. It stood on a dirt road amid treeless farmland where shade and a cold soda pop on the store gallery were considered luxuries, before the casino operators from Jersey arrived and, with the help of the state of Louisiana, convinced large numbers of people that vice is a virtue.” 


Desmond returns to the bayou in glory after hitting it big in the motion picture industry; he brings with him an unsavory character named Antoine Butterworth. While Dave is welcoming Desmond home, a terrible surprise looms into view: a boat on which a dead woman hangs on a wooden cross. It is plainly visible from Courmier’s deck, and yet he and Butterworth both deny seeing it. And with that, the story commences. 

A complicating factor is that screenwriter Alafair, Dave’s daughter, has begun dating Lou Wexler, a man involved in the film Desmond is making. She is an adult woman, and her father has absolutely no authority in any of her affairs, and yet he feels as if he should. He doesn’t like Wexler, and this creates friction between himself and his daughter.

But at the same time, Dave has plenty of issues of his own. The bottle still calls to him, and sometimes he experiences a ‘dry drunk,’ in which he consumes no alcohol but exhibits many of the same poor impulses as if he had done so. Alafair tells him in exasperation, “Dave, you use a nail gun on the people who love you most.”

One aspect of this book bothers me, and I briefly considered removing a star from the rating but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Nevertheless, the female characters in this novel, and in this entire series, need to be discussed. The very moment a young, nubile newcomer joins the force and is made Dave’s cop partner, I made a note. “Oh Christ, here we go. There’s no way she can exist and not be a romantic partner. Will she walk on the tops of his feet like his first three wives did? [yes.] Will his ears pop when they have sex? [yes.] And will he marry her and make her wife #4?” (Not telling.)

Burke has difficulty creating a female character who is not Dave’s relative and whose sexuality is not prominent or at least discussed. (His boss, Helen, is allowed to be an exception, but in every book we are told that she is a lesbian, as if business couldn’t proceed without this news.) Can we have an important female character whose sex life isn’t an issue, and can we see her developed in other respects? Of course, Burke is hardly alone in this regard, but the rest of what he writes is so outstanding that this one obvious flaw stands out like a ketchup stain on the Mona Lisa. 

Having said that, I can get back to the novel’s more congenial aspects, one of which is Dave’s closest friend, Clete Purcel. Clete can’t be a cop anymore because he doesn’t honor boundaries; however, this quality, combined with his loyalty to Dave, is what makes him so engaging and entertaining. Moreover, it is he who is most effective at pulling Dave away from the bars and the bottle. I cannot think of any literary sidekick that has been better developed across any series ever than Clete. I have a mental movie that runs when I read this series, and in my mind, Dave looks like a younger version of the author, and Clete—I only just realized the other day—shows up in my head as a sunburned Rodney Dangerfield. 

One other regard in which Burke consistently shines is his ability to create tragicomic side characters, and Smiley Wimple is unforgettable. Smiley is not all there, until he is. In fact, he may surface from beneath your bed. Smiley works as an assassin, but he also has standards. He needs to believe he is taking out a bad guy, or he won’t take the job. Smiley is fond of children, and he likes ice cream. Who knows? He might want to be your friend. And while I am on the subject—there’s some graphic material here, as is true for all of the books in this series; don’t count on this as meal time or bedtime reading. In fact, you may want a few extra lights turned on when you pick this one up. 

Lastly, this book can be read as a stand-alone. I entered the series halfway in when I was given a free paperback copy of The Tin Roof Blowdown; you can enter the series anywhere you prefer. However, if you love a complex, literary mystery and can tolerate a fair amount of violence, you will probably like it well enough to go find the rest and read them too. 

Masterfully written, and highly recommended.
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Hollywood director, Desmond Cormier, has chosen Iberia Parish to film his latest opus. Dave Robichaux knew him from when he was a young man in New Orleans with big dreams of becoming a director in Hollywood. On a visit to Cormier's house, he spots the body of a young woman tied to a cross float by. When both Desmond and a house guest deny seeing the body, Robichaux is convinced that at least one of them is somehow linked to the crime especially when he learns of the sordid past of the guest. But without more substantive evidence, his investigation is stymied. To make matters worse, his daughter, Alafaire, is working with the company and is convinced Dave is wrong.

At the same time, Dave's best friend, Clete, spots a man jumping from a train.When it is reported that a convicted killer has escaped prison and may be headed for the area, they suspect that it might be the man Clete saw. As the body count rises, all staged in grotesque poses that seem to represent Tarot cards, Dave learns that Chester 'Smiley' Wimple, the killer who targets anyone he suspects of hurting children, is also in the area. With this surfeit of suspects, finding the real killer won't be easy for Dave especially with a young beautiful new partner to distract him.  

The New Iberia Blues is the twenty-second in James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux series. The mystery genre is often seen as a lesser form to literary fiction - Burke proves once again the error of this view. His books, including this one, are as much an exploration of the human condition as they are cracking good mysteries. His prose is always pitch-perfect, often almost lyrical; his characters aren't just one-dimensional but complex and flawed and almost always sympathetic with back stories that, if not justifying their actions, explain them; the story is well-plotted and, if sometimes it seems to ramble away from the main plotline, it always returns. There is also a sense in the books that killers like Smiley aren't always the worst of the bad guys - sometimes, it's overly ambitious politicians or, in this case, a rich producer with an over-inflated sense of entitlement. For anyone who is a fan of Burke or just enjoys intelligent mysteries, this one's for you.

Thanks to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
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Having read only one other novel by James Lee Burke, I found the narrative structures between the two similar. The story was interesting, but it's just not my cup of tea.
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Book Review: The New Iberia Blues, A Dave Robicheaux Novel by James Lee Burke

As a first time reader of James Lee Burke, there is much to like about his style of writing - elegant prose, meticulous details and a steady douse of down-to-earth humor, but not overly so - an easy, pleasant read on a comfortable, overstuffed armchair, finished in a day of so. 

Declared the "heavyweight champ" by Michael Connelly, I will certainly be reading more of Mr. Burke.

What isn't a big deal is not having read even one of the first 21 books on Burke's Detective Dave Robicheaux. You'd quickly get acquainted with his die-hard friend, P.I. Clete Purcel, joined at the hip since they were beat cops in New Orleans, and deduce he's loved by his (adopted Salvadoran) daughter, Alafair, who's a lawyer of sorts; that there's some fixation for and a bit of mysterious past behind his bombshell partner, Bailey Ribbons; and that there's some sordid history with a colorful, wickedly deranged hitman named Chester "Smiley" Wimpie, along with some prior acrimonious dealings with the Mob.

The story is a delightful smorgasbord of lively characters, plots and sub-plots - a rags-to-riches Cajun movie producer born in the bayou, a mercenary sidekick with a fetish for "streaking", some charming movie actor /ex-intelligence officer, a escaped convict who claims he's innocent, a Maltese cross, tarot cards, gruesome ritual murders, a Baptist minister and his do-gooder daughter, the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mob from New Jersey and more hitmen. Culminated with an unexpected twist for the finale, as to be expected from a master thriller of international renown.

The author vivid portrays the culture and people ("...like his grandparents, he belonged to that group of mixed-blood Indians unkindly called redbones..."), and the lush woods, brackish bayous and swamps of Louisiana, far from the carnival party streets of New Orleans. 

And the language: "...Desmond's story was a piece of Americana, assuring us that wealth and a magical kingdom are available to the least of us, provided we do not awaken on our own penchant for breaking our heroes on a medieval wheel and revising them later, safely downwind from history..."

Review based on an advance reading copy provided by NetGalley and Simon & Schuster.
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James Lee Burke writes elegant complex novels about complex troubled people.  Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell are men who have been on both sides of the law sometimes at the same time.  This time out, Dave is investigating ritualistic murders that seem to be based on tarot cards.  At the same time, a film crew headed by director Desmond Cormier has come to town- and evil seems to lurk beneath the surface of some of those involved.  A new detective is added to the mix but what is it about Bailey- who also pulls at Dave's heart?  Why are these murders happening?  Is there a connection to the film or the money men or to something else entirely?  As always, the evil people, such as Smiley, are well drawn and can make your skin crawl.  This is balanced by Alafair, Snuggs, Mon Tee Coon, and of course, Clete.  The women in this novel will break your heart.  Burke's language is gorgeous- some argue it's overwritten but to me, it's got a rhythm and a purpose that pulls me in.  He has spoken about admiring Michael Connelly - whose book Clete reads here.  I don't know what more to say except that I enjoyed this immensely, as I always do his books, and thank Netgalley hugely for the ARC.  If you have not read Burke before, feel free to read this as a standalone- you'll quickly understand where Dave is coming from, his nightmares, and his love for Alafair, Clete, and his little corner of Louisiana.
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I have been reading this series for such a long time and am quite fond of  Detective Dave Robicheaux. Let me say that no one writes a better atmospheric novel than James Lee Burke. He captures the Louisiana flavor and way of life perfectly. My husband's family is from there and we have spent a lot of time there and this perfectly sums up that way of life. I will never forget going to a Mexican food diner and the featured entree was "Road Kill Burrito." I still shudder.

  As I say that, this series is not for the faint of heart. The murders are gruesome. Time spent with really creepy people who may have one redeeming feature including hitman, Smiley, sucks the breathe out of your body. Understanding how these people got this way is tough and then there are those, as Robicheaux says, are just born evil. Even the good guys like Clete, Dave's friend, are questionable.

  This one involves a New Orleans native who returns home to make a big budget movie. Hollywood brings with them, despicable people with ties to the Mafia. People start dying and there is a connection to Tarot cards (which in honesty, I never quite got) and Dave starts investigating. He has a love interest as does his adopted daughter. Much mystery and mayhem is uncovered.

  To be frank, this may be the end of the road for me. The older I get, the less I like spending time with truly evil as Dave does. Frankly, my hat is off to real life policemen who see these horrible things on a regular basis. I don't know how they do it. I do want to emphasize that this is a good good with a strong plot and full of atmosphere. It just may be too much for me.

  Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.
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Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange of a review.
Another fine novel by Mr Burke. I get so into his books that I start thinking the characters are real. That's just how good his descriptions of them and everything else are. They just seem so real.
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Sometimes larger books are filled with endless and unnecessary descriptions, but this book you will be glad is a big one. There is action all the way through, and the short and precise descriptions paint pictures of the area, the people and the culture. You will really get into everything with the great language, action and mystery.
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Thank you for letting me read this book but I found it to have more violence in general and particularly toward women than I could enjoy even in fiction.
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A solid 4 stars.
I first started reading James Lee Burke's books more than 20 years ago. My late father-in-law recommended his books to me, saying " He writes the most vivid metaphors that I have ever read." According to the author biography, he is now 82 years old. He still has the gift of writing vivid metaphors that let the reader taste, smell and feel the swamps, bayous and everything else in Louisiana.
This book has his main character, Detective Dave Robicheaux trying to solve a series of ritualistic murders. Clete Purcell, his friend and former police partner, is along for the ride.
Some quotes:
"Evil has an odor. It's a presence that consumes its host. We deny it because we don't have an acceptable explanation for it. It smells like decay inside living tissue."

"Unless you are familiar with the nature of Southern white trash, you will not understand the following: They are a genetically produced breed whose commonality is a state of mind and not related to the social class to which they belong. Economics has nothing to do with their origins or their behavior. You cannot change them. They glory in violence and cruelty and brag on their ignorance, and would have no problem manning the ovens at Auschwitz."I

"We had slipped into Indian summer without being aware of it. The sky was as hard and blue as porcelain, the oak leaves red and gold and clicking like crickets when they rolled across the lawn in the wind."
Thanks to Simon & Schuster for sending me this eARC through NetGalley.
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Dave Robicheaux has a closer relationship with the dead than any sane man can.  But he hangs on to his sanity and humanity amidst unbelievable evil in the latest in this long running series.  Nobody describes Louisiana like James Lee Burke, and in "New Iberia Blues” we return to the bayous of Louisiana and the people who call them home.  Robicheaux and his long time partner Clete Purcel take on a creepy collection of characters, whose past misdeeds weave a complicated net in the present.  I love this series, and enjoy every new entry!

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Another gem in the series that Mr. Burke has written for all these years.  The haunting beauty of his writing still enchants while the moral reckonings that confront his hero still ring with the bitter truth.  Burkes obsession with the Hollywood ethos and all its false worthiness and its betrayal of its artistic and moral sense come back again to give Dave more reasons to find humanity on a downward slide.  Murder, money-laundering, and a Maltese cross all play a part in a story that finds Dave involved in a sexual relationship, worries about his daughter and his pal, Clete Purcell, once up to his usual mayhem.  This is, to me, the finest series of crime novels ever written.
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Louisiana and Dave Robicheaux are synonymous. I’m not sure a story about one could be told without the other. Both have their flaws, their demons, and their promises of a better tomorrow. Locals, Hollywood types, villains from the past, innocents, and “guilty-of-something’s” populate the latest installment of the series as why try to figure whodunnit and why.
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A few years ago, I was at a Sydney Writers Festival event where Irish author John Connolly, himself a terrific prose stylist in the crime genre, called James Lee Burke the world’s greatest living crime writer. “You may disagree,” said Connolly, “but then you’ll be wrong.” While I do agree with Connolly, I’d add that the brilliance of Burke won’t be for everyone. His novels are a rich gumbo of beauty and foulness, humanity and cruelty. Beyond lyrical, his prose can be ornate, his stories gilded with symbolism.

The New Iberia Blues shows that Burke hasn’t lost any pep off his fastball. The twenty-second novel featuring Dave Robicheaux sees the legendary Louisiana investigator once again crossing swords with some vile human beings and calling into question his own actions and choices. A preacher’s daughter is pumped full of drugs and crucified, a death row inmate has escaped, an informant for Dave’s longtime pal Clete Purcel (who’s a rhino in a china shop of a private eye) is tortured and dragged to his death, and Dave’s fondness for his new, younger partner is matched by a Hollywood director who rose to fame from the streets of New Orleans. Meanwhile Dave’s beloved daughter Alafair gets involved with an older man who’s witnessed humanity at its worst, teetering Dave between protectiveness and hypocrisy.

Burke somehow manages to perfectly balance freshness and familiarity. The New Iberia Blues delivers everything long-time fans have come to expect from this doyen of crime writing – lush settings, lyrical prose, brutal musings on society’s ills and personal demons – while adding new threads too.

Timeless but not stuck in time, Burke doesn’t look like losing the throne anytime soo
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I speak my mind because it hurts too much to bite my tongue.

Much like ol' Detective Dave Robicheaux and his die-hard friend, P.I. Clete Purcel, who have always led their lives in that manner in New Iberia. They've been joined at the hip since they were beat cops in New Orleans. The panoramic views just get swampier like the bottom-feeders who roll in with satchels filled with crime and mayhem. Murder pops up on the daily menu.

Some talented authors bring the Thanksgiving feast between the pages. But, hear me now, James Lee Burke brings the feast with an abundance of all the trimmings: Savory, spicy, and especially tangy. Each phrase wraps around like tendrils focused on finding that featherbed in your mind. The descriptors are vibrant and the dialogue slams down a clenched fist on a hard surface. Such good, good stuff.

Burke creates a bit of heaviness in the Robicheaux scenario this time. We feel Dave's angst as the years and the mind spiders are catching up with him. Although he still hits the ground running, this long term good vs evil has taken its toll. But there seems to be an everlasting flame in both Dave and Clete that keeps their finger on the pulse of the underbelly in Bayou Teche. So many years behind the wheel allows you to sniff out the scent of the deadly from afar.

Dave visits a former New Iberia down-in-the-mouth kid who made it big in Hollywood as an award winning director and film maker. Desmond Cormier has brought along a sleezy actor and friend in the likes of 
Antoine Butterworth. They have set up filming not far from the spacious home of Desmond. While looking through a telescope on Desmond's patio, Dave spots something floating in the bayou. It turns out to be a dead woman strapped to a wooden cross with a Maltese cross around her ankle. Needless to say, the stakes are gonna be high in this one.

The New Iberia Blues is a deliciously tangled web with even Dave's impressive daughter, Alafair, in the mix. She's a lawyer turned screenplay writer and has been hired by Desmond Cormier for his latest film. This could be a big break for her. Dave's not having the same kind of thoughts about now.

Tie in an escaped convict, a new partner, tarot cards, the Mob, a very short pale psychopath, and plenty of gris-gris floating with bad fortune on the bayou.........and you've got a stellar offering from one of the best fiction writers in the business......James Lee Burke. Be still my heart.

I received a copy of The New Iberia Blues through NetGalley for an honest review. I wish to thank Simon & Schuster and the off-the-charts talented James Lee Burke for the opportunity.
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Better than the last book but not as good as the earlier ones, the atmosphere of melancholy and existential despair oozes through the pages but the 'I had no doubt he was mad' is, surely, the ultimate cop-out?

 Plus this is way too long, with too many characters from past books popping up again. There's even that male fantasy of a beautiful young woman falling into bed with Robicheaux who, as a Vietnam vet who remembers going to see a film with his mother in 1946, must be old enough to be her grandfather - ick! 

Despite some misgivings, Burke's stylish writing and vision of evil as a tangible thing gives some heft to the book - all the same,  it feels like this long-running series peaked some books back.
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