Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke
Dave Robicheaux is back on the pages of Rebel Voice. The Louisiana detective just can’t stay away from this magazine. This time, Dave is investigating the case of Cool Breeze Broussard, a black man who has suffered abuse at the hands of local white bigwigs, as well as having been badly treated by the thuggish jailer in the local lock-up.
Matters become further complicated when Megan Flynn, a renowned photo-journalist, and her brother Cisco, drop unexpectedly into Robicheaux’s life. Dave’s wife, Bootsie, is not impressed as Megan has a thing for Dave, although the feisty reporter eventually ends up having a fling with his best friend and former colleague, the eminently likeable Clete Purcell. Dave is reluctant to become involved in the problems that Megan brings to him, but is inextricably linked to the siblings. It was as a boy that Robicheaux and his father discovered Jack Flynn, a labour organiser and father to the two young children, beaten to death and nailed to a barn. Jack’s children were sent to orphanages and foster homes. No one was ever convicted for the brutal murder.
As Dave investigates Broussard’s case, he learns of how terribly Cool Breeze and his wife were treated by Archer Terrebonne many years previous. Terrebonne is the white guy in the big house with a family fortune made through slavery. The encounter between Cool Breeze and the morally vacuous capitalist resulted in the death of Broussard’s abused spouse. Now, with the discovery of two white brothers executed, Dave suspects that all roads of local murder lead back to Terrebonne.
Of course, no Burke novel would be complete without a host of intriguing and unique characters, and Sunset Limited is no exception. We meet the fascinating Swede Boxleiter. Swede is an ex-con killer with a fierce loyalty to Cisco Flynn, both having been through the federal care system where they became firm friends. As Cisco comes under threat from assassins believed linked to Terrebonne, Boxleiter takes startling action.
Then there is both Alex Guidry, the brutal jailer, and Harpo Scruggs, a former cop, bull guard and all-round bad ass. Harpo is a complicated individual. He has no empathy and is a cold and ruthless killer. But he does it for reasons of practicality. When it emerges that Scruggs and Terrebonne go back together a long way, Dave comes to realise that, strangely, there is no sense of fraternity between the two. In fact, Scruggs hates Terrebonne for the man he is and the social strata he comes from. It is in this that we get a glimpse of one of the central tenets of Burke’s many excellent novels. Class war.
Throughout both the Dave Robicheaux and Hackberry Holland novels, Burke repeatedly hits upon the issue of those corrupt individuals who have so much, gained by exploiting those who have little to nothing. In this approach, Burke follows in the noble footsteps of Steinbeck. Burke’s voice, expressed through his lead protagonists, is that of the common man and woman. He laments the injustice inflicted upon the have-nots in the US, and indeed in global society. His books are strongly allegorical and all the better for it.
Lila Terrebonne, Archer’s wayward daughter, flits in and out of this story. She’s a troubled person, seemingly blind to her father’s true nature. Lila is joined in this by Geraldine Holztner, daughter to Billy, a movie director mixed up with Cisco Flynn and the Italian and Chinese mobs. Confused? You won’t be as Sunset Limited is complex but very easy to follow. It’s a story with myriad twists and turns which all fit seamlessly together in a way that will electrify you.
Clete Purcell, Helen Soileau (Dave’s police partner), Alafair (Dave’s young adopted daughter), Mout Broussard (father to Cool Breeze), FBI Agent, Adrien Glazier, Father Mulcahy, New Iberia’s sheriff, and Jimmy Figorelli are just some of the complete personalities that appear in this work of art. It’s impressive that so many great characters can present so fully realized within what is a standard-sized novel.
Dave’s queries uncover horror after horror, both past and present, building to an intense and slightly ‘itchy’ conclusion. Burke always leaves his readers wanting more; surely the mark of a man who truly knows his trade. Great plot, beautiful setting, perfectly paced and some of the best characters to be found anywhere in literature, Sunset Limited is yet another masterpiece from one of the best authors, ever. Don’t ignore this book.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Sunset Limited has it all. It’s layered and in your face. If you want a straight-forward thriller, then this novel is it. But if you want a story with deeper meaning, then it will also satisfy that craving. Burke is a master story-teller, and Rebel Voice wants to have his babies.
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