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Book Review: Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

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I rate James Lee Burke one of the top two writers on this planet we call home. [I don’t know who the other one is cuz I haven’t run across that writer yet!] I haven’t said as much in the past, but I’ve maintained that thought for a number of years, and Burke reinforces that judgment with each new book of his that I read (I should say ‘devour’).

It doesn’t make any never mind whether he’s describing a grisly murder scene, or the agony tearing apart the murderer, or the mundane vision, sound and smell of the falling rain. He gets right to the root of the scene, then gives the reader a verbal photograph, which is what a good writer should always strive to do. When he describes the sight of a water spout, along with the smell of Bayou Teche, you see it and smell it. You feel it. You’re a part of it! Burke has such a way with words, if he were an assassin he could slip a knife in you and your first notice would be when you fell over dead.

Burke isn’t a summer day at the beach writer. He’s to be taken seriously, which requires more than vacuous inattention. There’s no better reward than one you’ve worked for, and the pleasure and reward one gets from reading Burke is worth every calorie burned in the process, since it’s given back a hundredfold.

But a word of warning. If you’re new to reading James Lee Burke, plan on being in it for the long haul. After enjoying Creole Belle, rest assured that you won’t sleep well until you’ve rounded up and read his thirty other novels at least once. Edgar Awards don’t come cheap and Burke has two under his belt, so you can be certain you’re reading the cream of the crop. If you should decide you like Burke’s characters of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, go back and start with The Lost Get Back Boogie, the beginning.

So … Creole Belle. This book is another chapter in the continuing saga of Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, two flawed souls, yet striving to walk the straight and narrow while carrying the many ghosts of their respective pasts and present, ghosts who can bring tears and heartbreak, or sometimes a smile.

Creole Belle begins where a previous book left off, with Dave in hospital, “and the demons fighting for space in his head.” He “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.’”

The chase is on, and by the time it ends he’s exposed the slimy underbelly of the city he loves and hates, New Orleans, with its equally slimy politicians, its good guys and bad guys … and its women.

So run, don’t walk, to your local library or bookstore and begin your own life-changing adventures, lived vicariously through Dave and Clete.

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About Lou Novacheck

  • I’m reading it right now. I just read the part where Alice beats up the guy who attacked her. Excellent! (Don’t mess with nuns!)

  • Deb Meyers

    I’ve been loving James Lee Burke’s books for the past 9 years. I can’t wait to read Creole Belle. I have one of his books that is signed to me with “Best Wishes from Dave Robicheaux and me, James Lee Burke”. I cherish it.