In the eye of the beholder

One of Bob Moyer’s favorite detective series has a notable change in offering No 24, and Bob approaches the new twist with an 0pen —

maybe even eager — mind.

Reviewed by Robert P. Moyer

CLETE. A Dave Robicheaux Novel. By James Lee Burke. Atlantic Monthly Press. 336 pages. $28.


He’s a mess, but he’s Dave Robicheaux’s best friend.

They’ve been friends since their days as “The Bobbsey Twins” when as cops they patrolled the French Quarter. Clete is a mainstay in this venerable series, one of the overall best in mystery fiction. He’s Sancho Panza to Dave’s Don Quixote, Watson to Dave’s Holmes, Laurel to his Hardy, but he couldn’t be more different. Where Dave drinks Dr. Pepper, Clete loves watching a shot sink to the bottom of a beer mug then slugging it back. Dave still mourns his deceased wife, while Clete gets caught up in the swirl of many a skirt. Dave eats a small sandwich; Clete can demolish the morning menu of a diner in one sitting. They have always had one thing in common, however — they both despise evil, and fight it wherever they find it, be it in the in the swamps of New Iberia, or the swamp of the French Quarter.

Now, in this 24th book in the series, they have something else in common—Clete narrates the action. For the first time, we get to see inside Clete’s thoughts, while getting the first external perspective on Dave. Burke does a remarkable job in not making the shift jarring at all.

The story starts when thugs strip Clete’s Cadillac convertible, looking for what turns out to be a plague-like version of fentanyl, maybe transported in Clete’s car while it was at the detail shop Clete immediately takes up the challenge when he figures it out — his grandniece was a victim of the drug. Soon he and Dave are chasing a pack of bad guys who include a dirty cop, a virulent anti-Semite and the nation’s most famous Ponzi scheme promoter. Their confrontations pulse with the usual violence Burke brings to his prose.

Burke paints a nuanced portrait of Dave through Clete’s eyes. In many ways Dave seems quieter, but Clete contributes a perspective on the power of the violence contained (most of the time) by Dave. Burke also brings out the difference in the role of women in their lives. Clete gets involved with four women — a Bourbon Street pole dancer, a trafficked Chinese woman, the wife of the Ponzi promoter — and Joan of Arc. Yes, once again, the barriers between time periods break down in this series, and the French martyr shows up on Clete’s personal battlefield to guide him through many sticky situations. The numerous episodes include a marvelous moment when Clete chases a villain over a levee on the Mississippi into the plains of France in the 15th century.

Justice takes place, bad guys get taken down, and the good guys and girls win — but not in a courtroom. Burke has produced a refreshing change to a venerable series, with all the passion and skill he has maintained these many years.

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