Cadillac Jukebox by James Lee Burke
This is number 9 in the Detective Dave Robicheaux series and was first published way back in 1996 (some of you may not have been born then). It’s one more in Rebel Voice‘s ongoing Burke binge.
In this installment, Robicheaux finds himself in a mess as Louisiana’s racist past meets Louisiana’s racist present. Racism is a recurring theme in Burke’s writing and he is to be commended for drawing such solid attention it.
Aaron Crown is sent to prison for a crime committed decades previously, when a civil rights leader was gunned down. Crown was in the Ku Klux Klan and is known as a man of violence. Few, but his daughter Sabine, shed any tears when he is convicted. When he contacts Robicheaux to protest his innocence, Dave is dismissive at first, but soon comes to believe in Crown’s innocence.
However, Governor election candidate, Buford LaRose, from a family steeped in white supremacy, is determined to see Crown remain in prison. He pressurizes Robicheaux into dropping the case which, understandably, has the opposite effect. There is also the small matter of Dave having shagged Buford’s wife, Karen, back in the day when they were all still single. It seems that Dave still melts Karen’s butter and she is hoping to bump uglies with him some more. Dave’s feisty wife, Bootsie, has other ideas however.
Then we have Persephone Green, daughter of an Italian mafioso, and a dangerous lady. Her husband Doc is a hallucinating nutcase. They make a fine couple. They are at odds with Dave. As is Clay Mason, the specious, aging hipster who is a man with a lot of secrets.
Of course, no Robicheaux is complete without a serial killer or two. In this one we meet Mookie Zerrang (where does Burke get these names?), a sick and sordid hit-man who often does it for fun. Zerrang has his sights set on Robicheaux. It all makes for very good entertainment, which is typical of this series.
James Lee Burke is a master at telling a tale. He somehow manages to create many different strands to every story and then expertly weaves them in and out as the story progresses. His character list is impressive. His characters are also consistent. The inimitable Clete Purcel appears in Cadillac Jukebox and, as always, makes his mark. I much prefer Purcel to Robicheaux, as Dave often allows himself to get bogged down in moral issues that sometimes seem at odds with his past and present. He’s not half quick enough to kill the bad guys for my liking. Clete doesn’t suffer from the same malaise.
One small criticism, of this series, is the apparently nonchalant manner in which Robicheaux deals with serial killers and other dangerous persons. If most of us were threatened by a sadistic head-the-ball, we would be carrying our gun everywhere, including the shower, especially if you happen to live in a remote place as Dave does. Not so with Robicheaux, who wanders around unarmed and even goes for jogs knowing that if happened upon by killers, then he will surely die. Robicheaux is so laid back, he makes the Dude Lebowski look like Daffy Duck.
This nit-picking is valid, and with other authors would be a bigger deal, yet Burke’s writing is so good as to make it seem irrelevant. His prose is poetry. His depictions of both people and land are amazing. His use of language is as good as it gets. Who, therefore, am I to question the casual attitude of a Louisiana detective? He probably knows more about his adversaries than I do. Still, Dave, keep your enemies close and your fucking gun closer.
Bordellos, brothels, bars, swamps, woods and bayou, the action flows quickly across the south Louisiana landscape. The pace is relentless and breathtaking. This is one that will hook you and hold you. It does makes you think, at times, that the most civilized individuals to be found in the region are the alligators, and Dave’s adopted daughter, Alafair.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. Highly recommended, but don’t stress over Dave’s hippy approach to his and his family’s safety. He’s a Cajun, for God’s sake, he dances to accordion music…
– Don’t be stingy, give it a share –