Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke
This is book 15 in the popular Dave Robicheaux series. In this installment, the bold detective from New Iberia in Louisiana, encounters the daughter of a friend of his who was gunned down many years before in Miami. Her appearance coincides with the emergence of some seriously bad hombres from Florida who have designs on Dave’s hometown. Dave has other ideas.
Dallas Klein was a drinking buddy of Robicheaux back when he was still with New Orleans police department, and a drunk. Dave is still consumed with guilt over Klein’s death during a bank robbery. Dallas’s daughter, Trish, lands in New Iberia under suspicious circumstances, and Dave is convinced she is out for revenge on the men who murdered her father.
Clete Purcell, however, encounters Trish and falls for her, as is his wont with beautiful women who are not good for him. Whilst Clete is enjoying the shag with Trish, Dave is busy investigating the criminals that he suspects Trish to be after.
Whitey Bruxal is a bad man. His son, Slim, isn’t any better. Their associates, Bello Lujan and his wayward son, Tony, are not in the same ball park but are distasteful nonetheless. The younger men are college students believed to have knowledge of the suicide of poor college girl, Yvonne Darbonne. The older men are suspected of fronting for the mafia via the casinos that have sprung up across Louisiana. To add to Dave’s troubles, Lefty Raguza, a psychopathic killer, is in town and has his sights set on Trish, Clete and Dave. Cue trouble.
It is difficult to do justice to one of Burke’s novels in a short review. There are so many sub-lots and strands to the stories that any synopsis would need to be at least half as long as the novel to fully explain the tales involved. The character list is impressive in this one. We have the aforementioned hoods and killers, as well as Dave’s bi-sexual boss, Helen Soileau; we have Yvonne’s Darbonne’s distraught father, Cesaire; we have Monarch little, the hapless black dope-dealer and chief suspect in a number of murders; we have Betty Mossbacher, the fumbling and bumbling FBI agent assigned to look into the activities of Whitey Bruxal; we have the Rev. Colin Alridge, a man believed to be a fake preacher (much like the one from Jame Bond who had a special bedroom for his young female acolytes to further their education into the good Lord), and we have Lonnie Marceaux, the ruthlessly ambitious District Attorney who has it in for Robicheaux. This list is not complete.
Is Monarch as bad as he seems? How far will Lefty Raguza go in his attempts at revenge? How spoiled and pampered are Slim and Tony? How far would their fathers go to protect their troublesome offspring? How much hassle will Helen take on Dave’s behalf? What destruction will Clete cause in this episode?
The answer to the last question, is quite a lot. Clete excels, yet again, in this story. He is the reality to Dave’s moral quandaries, the consequence to Robicheaux’s pondering. Clete gets shit done as Dave worries and frets about if it should be done. They compliment one another nicely.
As Dave gets closer to the truth, he gets closer to danger directed at him and his loved ones. Dave tends to get pissy when this happens and woe behold any fucker that messes with Robicheaux’s family. The action is constant here and the plot flies along unabated.
I have written previously about Burke’s prose and the poetry therein. Pegasus Descending is no different. The writing is exquisite. I keep a dictionary handy for some of the words but not many, as the smooth rhythms carried me along from scene to scene.
The scenic depictions are complementary to southern Louisiana, although it must be said that there are a lot of killers in a very small area. It reminds me of the fictional town of Midsummer, in England, where the series, Midsummer Murders is set. This sleepy village has featured 222 murders, 11 accidental deaths, 11 suicides and seven deaths from natural causes in a remarkably short time span. Who the hell would want to live there?
I often think of Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote. Anytime she appears, someone dies. If I saw her coming I would run the other way lest a doughy housewife bashed my head in with a clothes iron just because their husband forgot their anniversary. New Iberia is kinda like that. Serial killers, drug dealers, contract killers, lunatics, rogue cops and hurricanes. All this in a city of 30,386 souls. James Lee Burke must have single-handedly driven the house prices down in the area. Perhaps it’s all a scheme by the wily Burke to buy up cheap property and then, later, write a few stories about how safe it is, subsequently pushing the house prices back up again. Burke, you rascal!
In Pegasus Descending, we are left wondering who is responsible for a number of murders, some of which are particularly gruesome. Burke’s skill is obvious in that the culprit(s) are not always obvious, even up until the last few pages. He’s that good.
Behind all the investigations, and violence, and corruption, the author gives us a social commentary that can’t be overlooked in its importance. For example, Dave states, ‘… and I thought of the innocent people all over the world who suffer because of the greed and selfishness of the few.’
These words come from a socialist and condemn the psychology of capitalism. Burke’s book are loaded with such content. Yet it doesn’t interfere with the narrative in any way that would be disconcerting to the reader, unless the reader is Donald Trump – and it’s not confirmed that Trump can read to any great degree. In his positioning on social issues, Burke is closely aligned with another literary great, Steinbeck (who was once a card-carrying communist). It may be that the best and most insightful writers will always be socialist in their outlook, as such an ideology goes hand-in-hand with caring about others. Alternatively, capitalism is the belief that it’s OK to shit on others, no matter who they are.
The story in Pegasus Descending is entirely engaging. It ticks boxes galore for those whom want drama, passion, intrigue, mystery, action, romance, heartache and beautiful settings. In short, it is a typical Dave Robicheaux novel. Look out for how Clete deals with Lefty Raguza at the casino, it’s a joy to behold. What a guy!
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Another solid performance by a master storyteller. Dave Robicheaux novels are not to be missed. If you don’t read this book, then I will notify Clete, and you really don’t want to get the Cletemeister angry. Trust me on this…