White Doves at Morning by stdepue

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									“White Doves at Morning” (2002) is a standalone historical novel by James Lee Burke,
critically-acclaimed and highly-popular author of the Dave Robicheaux series of
Southern mystery novels, noir police procedurals set, at least initially, in what is more or
less his home turf, about which we’ve recently been hearing so much, America’s Gulf
Coast, more particularly New Orleans and New Iberia, Louisiana.

Like the Robicheaux novels, “White Doves” is set largely in the Gulf Coast, entirely in
the South, during the American Civil War and the ensuing period, known as
“Reconstruction,” though there was precious little reconstruction getting done. At the
center of the novel are, apparently, two of Burke’s own ancestors, Robert Perry, from a
slave-owning, wealthy family, and Willie Burke, from a family of Irish immigrants, both
apparently decent and conscientious men, who, even so, join the Confederate Army.
Both men rather fancy Abigail Dowling, a beautiful Massachusetts abolitionist who has
taken up residence in New Iberia, the better to fight slavery. Burke has taught – against
all local law and custom, Flower Jamison, beautiful mulatto daughter of a slave and Irv
Jamison, the ruthless owner of the immense Angola Plantation, which he will convert to
the notorious Angola prisoner after war’s end. (We’ll be introduced to many rich and
arrogant men in Burke’s work).

As ever, Burke’s descriptions of the country where he was born, and has set his most
successful novels, are outstanding. His description of the Civil War, a horrendously long
and bloody event, and its effects upon man, beast, and countryside are also outstanding,
particularly the famous battles of Shiloh and the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. I’d say
he knew quite a lot about that war, must have researched it further, and successful
absorbed his research findings. His depiction of his female protagonists is, I’d say, less
successful: Burke may sympathize with women and their problems, but that doesn’t mean
he understands them, either one.

Louisiana is more or less home country for Burke, who was born in Houston, Texas, in
1936, and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast. He attended Southwestern
Louisiana Institute; later received B. A. and M. A. degrees from the University of
Missouri in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for
Sinclair Oil Company, a pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English
professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana
Employment Service, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps.

Some of Burke’s more recent, best-selling novels in the Robicheaux series are JOLIE
BLON’S BOUNCE, PURPLE CANE ROAD, and CADILLAC JUKEBOX. Burke's
work has twice been awarded an Edgar for Best Crime Novel of the Year. He has also
been a recipient of a Breadloaf and Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant. His early
novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and
upon publication by Louisiana State University press was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
At least eight of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers.

“White Doves,” is, to me, a perfectly acceptable, good job of work, but it’s neither
outstanding, nor particularly memorable. Seems like most, if not all, mystery authors,
even the best of them, itch to try their hands at something else, and Burke is as free as
anyone to try his hand at different genres. But he has a powerful creation in Robicheaux,
one he is not likely to be able to duplicate elsewhere. Certainly not in “White Doves.”

								
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