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Crusader's Cross

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					‚Crusader’s Cross,‛ (2005), is the fourteenth novel published by
American author James Lee Burke in his mighty New York Times bestselling
Detective Dave Robicheaux series. Like the earlier books of the series,
and most of the series’ works to follow, the book, a Southern noir,
police procedural/mystery, is set in and around New Orleans, Louisiana,
more or less home country for Burke, who was born in Houston, Texas, and
grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast.

A conversation between Robicheaux and a dying childhood friend about Ida Durbin, a
young prostitute that Robicheaux's half-brother, Jimmie, loved and lost in the late 1950s,
sets the ex-homicide detective on a path that eventually leads to several gruesome
killings. Robicheaux is still living in New Iberia, Louisiana, a small
quiet town near New Orleans.            He is no longer employed by the local
sheriff’s office as CRUSAADERS CROSS opens, but, as the body count
mounts, he will be asked to return by his former partner, now the
sheriff, the widely thought-to-be lesbian Helen Soileau, of whom we will
hear much more as the series goes on. The detective no longer lives in
the house his father built; it has burnt down. His third wife Bootsie
has died of lupus; his adopted daughter Alafair is studying at Oregon’s
Reed College. Robichaux has sold his nearby boat and bait shop to
Batist, the black man who worked there with him, whom we have met many
times before and will again.           Alafair’s pet Tripod, the three-legged
raccoon, is very much around, as is Robicheaux’s pet cat Snuggs. The
detective will meet a politically-active nun he fancies, Molly Boyle.
And, to be sure, Clete Purcell, Robicheaux’s impulsive former partner
on the New Orleans Police Department, an overweight, heavily-drinking,
brawling, heavily-scarred survivor of the city’s tough Irish Channel
neighborhood, (as are the inevitable New Orleans gangsters in any work
of Burke’s), is always around to help the detective. Robicheaux is of
Cajun ancestry, still reliving the nightmare of his service in Vietnam.
He has a drinking problem, and a tendency to violence that is
exaggerated by his friend and alter-ego Purcel.

This book around, the inevitable New Orleans wise guy is Didi Giacano
(Didi Gee), who is typical of Burke’s mobsters in that he, too, comes
out of the Irish Channel neighborhood, and has been known to the
detective Robichaux since their childhoods. And we get Burke’s
frequently raised thought that the working class Irish Channel accent
resembles more, in its heavy Irish influence, the well-known Brooklyn
accent than a Southern one. Robichaux’s half-brother Jimmie is
mentioned for the first time in several books, as is ‚Streak,‛ the
nickname both have been known by in their own circles, referring to a
white streak in their dark hair, the result of childhood malnutrition.
The boys’ parents are also mentioned for the first time in several
books.

The wealthy and powerful local land-owning blue blood, handsome, well-
educated, and of a prominent, former slave-holding family, is Valentine
Chalons, who is, as ever, resident in the local Big House, ruthless and
greedy, doesn’t care whom he hurts – always characteristic of Burke’s
similarly situated rich men. And as is also a frequent occurrence in
Burke’s work, the hated rich man has a relationship with a beautiful
woman with whom Robicheaux has a romantic history: but this time it’s
Chalons’ sister Honoria. There’s the usual psychotic, funny-looking
bad guy killer with the funny name. And Burke continues to give us the
odd grotesque character, a sure hallmark of Southern gothic literature.
Finally, Burke gives a callout to Michael Connelly, praising his THE
BLACK ECHO, first book in Connelly’s Bosch series.

Well, you can see, there’s a lot of familiar material in this series’
entry. Still, Burke continues to write with energy, power, and, as the
great 20th century Irish poet William Butler Yeats said, passionate
intensity. Enough, I think, to hook most readers, and keep them turning
the pages. Perhaps, more than anything else, in Burke’s work, we’ll
enjoy some of the most beautiful, knowledgeable writing ever committed
to paper about the flora, fauna, geography, and human occupants of New
Orleans and the Gulf Coast, now so much in the news. In this book, we
also get some of Burke’s most meltingly beautiful writing as he
discusses his, and Robicheaux’s salad days in the 1950s: ‚pink
Cadillacs, drive-in movies, stylized street hoods, rock ‘n’roll, Hank
and Lefty on the jukebox, the dirty bop, daylight baseball, chopped down
’32 Ford with Merc engines drag-racing in a roar of thunder past drive-
in restaurants…‛

Burke 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. His
work has twice been awarded an Edgar for Best Crime Novel of the Year.
At least eight of his novels have been New York Times bestsellers.   This
author’s pen is definitely mightier than any sword.

				
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