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by James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster, January 2019
464 pages
ISBN: 1501176870

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THE NEW IBERIA BLUES is James Lee Burke's 22nd mystery featuring New Iberia, Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux and his associates and family. The backwoods country of coastal Louisiana is a pervading element as well, more a dark, dank, brooding character in its own right than merely a background for the action. As the book opens, Dave is called to investigate a sighting in the bay that turns out to be the floating body of a young woman who has been crucified, nailed to a cross. He views this gruesome murder from the deck of a seaside mansion owned by award-winning Hollywood director Desmond Cormier. Desmond grew up in this part of Louisiana, but he somehow made it big in Hollywood and is now shooting a movie, part locally and part in Monument Valley Utah. His houseguest is an obnoxious film celebrity named Antoine Butterworth who lounges around barely clothed. Dave takes an immediate dislike to him and finds reasons to suspect both of these Hollywood characters of the murder.

But then other victims are found, each killed or displayed ritualistically, with some reference to the images on the cards of the Tarot deck—at least according to Dave's new attractive young colleague, Bailey Ribbons. Dave feels incredibly old as he contemplates the uselessness of his attraction to her, his junior by about 50 years. The author allows his protagonist many musings on the sadness of growing older. Some lines are quite poetic, and add a dimension of nostalgia and the suffering of the human condition to the haunting landscapes of the Cajun countryside. Dave had lost three wives, the last two through violence, and he tends to see the worst scenarios first.

There is no shortage of possible perpetrators for the killings. An escapee from Texas death row, Hugo Tillinger, was spotted jumping off a train, and it turns out that he had a connection to the first murdered woman. A local gang involved with prostitution is mentioned and the Mafia might have reason to kill. Then there is a violent and nasty cop named Axel Devereaux who holds a grudge. Pets are threatened and attacked, a deranged local character surfaces, and then the action moves to Utah. Dave's daughter Alafair has taken up with another film personality, a producer named Lou Wexler who works with Desmond. Dave is worried about her as she flies on Wexler's private jet to take part in the Utah production. When she calls him, they talk about death.

This mystery is haunted by Dave's, and perhaps Burke's, bittersweet sense of time closing in on life and of the natural world disappearing. Sometimes this sense of doom enhances the storyline, and at other times it takes the reader away into contemplating much more than who the murderer might be. In the end, we learn who has been killing and why, although it somehow matters less than it might have in a different sort of book.

§ Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, January 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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