A Morning For Flamingos by James Lee Burke
Burke’s back! The purveyor of tales from New Iberia, New Orleans and southern Louisiana has returned to the pages of Rebel Voice, complete with yet another Dave Robicheaux thriller.
This is book 4 in the popular series and dates right back to 1992. I won’t tell you exactly what I was doing back then, but can reveal that it involved trying to get naked as often as possible whilst convincing pretty young women to join me. The results should remain hidden… perhaps forever.
In this early instalment, Robicheaux’s wife, Annie, is dead and he has officially adopted Alafair, the young Guatemalan girl that he saved from a plane crash in a Louisiana swamp.
Dave, a detective with New Iberia police department, is detailed to escort two prisoners to Angola penitentiary and death row. One of them, Tee Beau, is a naive young black man who Dave comes to believe may be innocent. The other, Jimmie Lee Boggs, a redneck, is not. It is during the transfer that the prisoners escape. Dave is shot and seriously wounded by Boggs whilst his colleague dies at the scene. It all hits Dave hard, and deeply troubles Alafair.
When Dave eventually returns to duty, he is approached by the DEA and asked to go undercover in New Orleans with the promise that the venture will bring him to the still-at-large Jimmie Lee. Dave agrees, which is a pretty stupid thing to do as Alafair depends entirely upon him, and he therefore doesn’t have the luxury of playing gunslinger at this stage on his life. Ah, the joys of testosterone.
Off to New Orleans goes our intrepid cop, where he links up with his old beat partner, Clete Purcell, a favourite of Rebel Voice. Clete volunteers to help Dave in his investigations and the customary mayhem ensues.
As Dave gets deeper into the world of drug-dealing, he falls into the orbit of Mafioso kingpin, Tony Cardo. Tony is a strange and intriguing character, large than life, with a young disabled son who he cares for deeply. He paints a picture of great contrasts to Robicheaux, who is uncertain as to how he should proceed or if he should proceed at all.
It is in A Morning For Flamingos (great title) that we first meet Bootsie, the fiery local gal from Dave’s past who is to play such a prominent role in his future. Dave and Bootsie find that their reconnecting after so long brings intense feelings and desires. But it’s never straightforward for our sometimes anti-hero. Bootsie is in business with the Mob.
As is usual for a Robicheaux novel, the south Louisiana countryside, with its swamps and bayous, features strongly. Burke’s depictions are vivid and compelling. The portrayal of New Orleans is lively and gritty. The character list is impressive. There are colourful personalities tripping over themselves to be introduced to the reader. The prose is, yet again, poetical in parts. Burke’s books are substantial pieces of work.
As Dave wrestles with his conscience, he continues his pursuit of Boggs. The dark underbelly of Tony Cardo is exposed even as the drug lord further befriends Dave. It is in Cardo that we can most clearly see the recurring theme that ofttimes runs through Burke’s Robicheaux series, namely that of the psychology of the former Vietnam-era soldiers who never really escaped the jungles of south-east Asia. I do wonder if Burke, himself, was in ‘Nam, such is his determination to remind readers of the horrors of both that terrible war and the equally horrific one in Korea, neither of which should have involved the United States.
Rebel Voice wonders how many more US service personnel will be sent to the Middle East to kill and be killed, and all at the behest of war-mongering profiteers such as Trump and Netanyahu. Perhaps the plots of novels of the future for writers such as Burke, are being woven in the sterile boardrooms of the West, and Israel, today. In any event, Cardo, Robicheaux and Purcell all have their nightmares, and stories to tell, which adds depth to the overall premise.
A Morning For Flamingos twists various subplots together as only Burke can. Dave moves from New Orleans to New Iberia, from the crime-ridden streets of the Big Easy to the polluted bayous of the coast, where dire poverty and hopelessness are endemic. Racism is present and never shied away from, which is yet another regular facet to commend Burke’s writing. Each Robicheaux tale serves as an education in the societies to be found in Louisiana both past and present, and should leave readers with a hunger for more. It’s a hunger that has not yet been sated for Rebel Voice. Roll on with the rest of the Robicheaux saga.
Sult scale rating: 8 out of 10. An early book but wonderful to see how Dave’s life evolves in his formative years as a detective. As always, the writing is a master-class in how to pen a good, a very good novel.