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Last Car to Elysian Fields: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Author: James Lee Burke
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by: Kevin Tipple

LastcarNew Orleans is a place of painful memories for Detective Dave Robicheaux, and that has not changed in this novel of the series. Aided by his old friend, Clete Purcel, they are investigating the beating of another old friend, a Catholic Priest by the name of Jimmie Dolan. Clete and Dave have a very good idea who is ultimately responsible, but proof is elusive as ever and the case quickly stalls.

At the same time, back in New Iberia and Dave's home parish, three girls are killed in a drunk driving accident. The seventeen-year-old driver was the daughter of a local prominent physician who is incapable of accepting any possibility that his daughter, caught before for driving while intoxicated, could have made any mistake. He wants vengeance and blames police incompetence, but Dave doesn't want to just get the young clerk that sold the stuff. He wants proof to bring down the owner whom he suspects knew full well what was going on and had no problem with selling to minors. Before he can gather the proof he needs, the owner of the drive through store is dead and the enraged father is the suspect. But that would be simple and James Lee Burke books are always far from simple.

Throw in a toxic dump site, a decades old murder mystery, and his usual ingredients of child abuse, racism, pain, regret, and ghosts of the past, and the reader is faced with one of the darkest books produced by this author in a long time. Dave has plenty of reasons to be angry at the world, as made clear within the first few shocking pages. His answer to his pain this time is not to dive back into the bottle, something that has haunted him for years, but to instead obsessively work the cases, driven to find the truth and maybe self-destruct on purpose while he is at it. The result is a dark and twisting read as Dave attempts to deal with the pain - past and present.

While two of the main secondary characters are notable for their absence, most everyone else is back for this go-around. So too is Burke's obvious love for southern Louisiana as detailed in his elegant prose describing both the scenery and the past. At the same time, with just a few simple sentences, the author manages to convey both the beauty of an item as well as the dark side of the same item. It is a rare talent and one that should be appreciated by readers as they are pulled into this dark world.

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December 17, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink

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