Morphine is a wonderful drug for those who need it. Dave Robicheaux certainly needs it as he slowly recovers in a New Orleans hospital from being shot twice in the back. For a person with Dave’s documented addictions, morphine is a dangerous drug that could easily end his hard fought sobriety. Morphine also has caused Dave and others to question his sanity as he no longer apparently knows what is real or not.
Despite what others have told him, Dave Robicheaux believes that a young Cajun woman, Tee Jolie Melton, came to his hospital room. She brought him an iPod filled with music and a problem. She is pregnant, seeing a married man who does business with dangerous people, and he may have some connection to the oil rig explosion out in the Gulf.
While the iPod is clearly real, her music is not on it according to others. Yet, when Dave uses the iPod he has no trouble finding Tee’s music. He isn’t sure if she was real or not, but believes she was there and that she needs his help. It isn’t the first time that Dave has seen what others claim could not possibly be there or the first time when Dave’s obsessions have made others question what he was thinking and doing. That might have been the end of it if Frankie Giacano hadn’t insisted Clete Purcel owed money on a marker to an absolute nutjob named Bix Golightly. It doesn’t take long before Bix Golightly makes a run at Clete for the money and their war is on.
Though eventually released from the hospital, Dave Robicheuax can’t shake his belief that Tee Jolie Melon came to his room. This despite all the evidence to the contrary, including the fact she went missing weeks ago which Dave was in the hospital. While no one else believes him, including Clete who reluctantly assists him as his own issues mount, the discovery of Tee’s dead sister’s body in a block of ice in a nearby marsh seems to prove Dave’s point. Inside the dead girl’s throat is a piece of red balloon with the chilling message – “My sister is still alive.” (Page 73)
Over the five hundred plus pages these two storylines gradually work together to lead Dave and Clete to what could very well be the final battle with everyone they hold dear at stake. When evil is this deep and this powerful one can’t wait for the wheels of justice as Clete constantly reminds Dave. Dave and Clete have done it before and when pushed can do it one more time. The black flag was raised long ago and the only answer is to kill the ingrained evil once and for all.
In what reads as an ode to the series and the Louisiana that was, author James Lee Burke spends much of the novel reminiscing on the past and commenting on the present day. There are long multi-page passages of philosophy regarding the super rich, the gulf disaster, the destructive changes to the Louisiana wetlands, government, the unchecked power of corporations, and nature of true evil among other topics. While such themes and variations of them have always been present in his books, they are front and center here pushing the actual mysteries to back burner where they simmer for most of the book.
Death and mortality have always been a heavy and major theme as well. That is much more prevalent in this book where the coming of winter and what that represents in both a figurative and a literal sense is at play throughout the book. While Clete shows by acting out in various ways that he has reservations and guilt about the past dating back to Vietnam, Dave Robicheaux as narrator details his thoughts through long passages of narrative in the book.
Slow moving and heavily atmospheric with long passages of metaphor and symbolism, Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel, is a complex work very hard to sum up in a book review. Those who prefer constant action, stripped down prose, and little contemplation will be best advised to look elsewhere for reading material. Those who prefer complexity and substance with long detailed history and deep questions of morality and faith will have much to ponder in this latest powerful installment of this long running series.
Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel
James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster
Hardback (also available in large print and audio)
Material supplied by the good folks of the Plano Texas Public Library System. Again this year the summer reading challenge for adults and kids is now underway. For more information go to
Kevin R. Tipple ©2012