Review: Creole Belle, James Lee Burke

Creole Belle
Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Creole Belle is very much Clete’s story, a first for James Lee Burke. I saw it coming in previous stories, and Creole Belle was everything I could have hoped for, full of contradiction and desperate choices. Nothing in the world of Dave Robicheaux is black and white. They live in a world of gray.

Dave contemplates death much more these days. He and Clete think about death, their age, wondering if they’re irrelevant, and recall the New Orleans of their youth with a sense of loss akin to mourning. The troubles and pains of their pasts do not taint their memories of New Orleans, and the city of their childhoods remains like a laughing infant, joyous and thrilled with its own being.

The chemical traces remaining from the oil well blowout are like a stain reminding them of what they’ve lost. Dave mourns the loss of the wetlands, marshes, and bayou of his youth, and resents that the loss comes at a deliberate hand.

The story is as involved as ever, building layers over the characters, bringing some to the end their lives led them to. I did have a few moments of terror when I thought Mr. Burke had taken from us one character whose loss I could not abide.

If I have any complaint, it’s that I missed Will Patton’s voice. I read this book, though I usually listen to the audiobook. Patton has become the voice of Dave Robicheaux for me.

A few favorite quotes:
“No matter how it played out, my vote would always remain with those who’d had their souls shot out of a cannon and who no longer paid much heed to the judgment of the world.”
— Dave Robicheaux in one sentence

“Does it make sense that the same species that created Athenian democracy and the Golden Age of Pericles and the city of Florence also gifted us with the Inquisition and Dresden and the Nanking massacre?”
— Dave sees contradiction as intrinsic to the human condition, even though he doesn’t always understand it.

“Evil men feared and hated Clete Purcel because they knew he was unlike them. They feared him because they knew he put principle ahead of self-interest, and they feared him because he would lay down his life for his best friend. I think Ben Jonson would have liked and understood Clete and would not have been averse to saying that, like his friend William Shakespeare, Clete was not of an age but for all time.”
— a fitting description for the man at the center of this story, and a testament to the admiration and love Dave Robicheaux has for his friend.

Creole Belle is not to be missed by any fan of Dave Robicheaux or James Lee Burke.

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