Featured Review: ‘The New Iberia Blues’ by James Lee Burke

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The New Iberia BluesThough much is the same, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke continues to find subtle new ways to keep his long-running series, now twenty-two books in, fresh and timely. 

From rags to riches to . . . handcuffs? That’s what Detective Dave Robicheaux wants to find out when he knocks on the door of Desmond Cormier’s ritzy Cyrpemort Point estate. A successful filmmaker with multiple hit titles and a slew of award nominations to his name, Cormier is now a Hollywood big shot, but Dave still thinks of him as the undersized kid he met twenty-five years before on the hardened streets of Louisiana. 

The knock on Cormier’s door is in response to several 911 calls made in the area from people who claim to have heard a woman screaming for help the night before. Cormier, it turns out, has no idea what Dave is talking about, or so he says. Neither does his buddy, actor Antoine Butterworth, who proves to be elusive and well versed in providing slippery answers when questioned by the police. Robicheaux, who’s been around the block and back more times than he can count, doesn’t trust either one of them, especially after he discovers the body of  Lucinda Arceneaux, the daughter of a local pastor, who was crucified and dumped in Weeks Bay, still strapped to a floating cross. 

While searching for Lucinda’s killer, a number of suspects turn up as past demons descend upon Louisiana. Most notably, Hugo Tillinger, a convicted murderer who recently escaped from a Texas prison, and the psychotic Chester “Smiley” Wimple show up, though Dave isn’t sure either is responsible for this particular crime. While he and longtime friend Cletus Purcel hunt for the real killer, their pursuit of justice leads them down a path that puts them on a collision course with a number of unsavory characters, including run-ins with members of the mob.

All of this, of course, takes place as Dave continues to deal with issues from his personal life. First, there’s the awkward period of adjusting to life with a new partner, Bailey Ribbons, who, on top of being a solid cop, serves as a new love interest, even though she’s considerably younger than Dave. Alafair, Dave’s adopted daughter, is also back, and now dating a man much older than her, which causes Dave to wrestle with a number of feelings because he doesn’t like his daughter in a relationship with a man Lou Wexler’s age, even if it’s hypocritical considering his crush on Ribbons. 

The plot surges onward at a steady clip until two more bodies turn up, one of which was an informant for Clete, kicking things into overdrive as Burke ramps up the tension and suspense before treating readers to the kind of climactic ending he’s routinely pulled off for more than three decades. 

Much like C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, the true magic of Burke’s series doesn’t take place in the mystery itself, but rather the moments between plot points when readers are able to spend time with Robicheaux and the rest of his masterfully developed cast. At this point, James Lee Burke could probably write about Dave and Clete hanging out and running errands and readers would likely plunk down cash just to follow them around and be part of their universe once a year. Of course, that’s not to say that the mystery isn’t a huge focal point, or that Burke is phoning it in. In fact, he’s done just the opposite. Whereas most writers are losing steam this deep into their respective franchises, Burke can still twist plot threads together with the best of them — and just when you think you know how his latest offering is going to play out, he pulls out one surprise after another. 

You’d be hard pressed to find a more talented mystery writer still working today than James Lee Burke, who remains in top form with The New Iberia Blues, one of his best novels in years and a sure bet to find its way onto everyone’s “best of” list at the end of the year. 

Book Details

Author: James Lee Burke
SeriesDave Robicheaux #22
Pages: 464 (Hardcover)
ISBN: 1501176870
Publisher: Simon & Schuster 
Release Date: January 8, 2019
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10

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Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.

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