Last Car to Elysian Fields


by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)


(This column first appeared in the March 25, 2004 issue of ArtVoice of Buffalo.)


James Lee Burke is in top form with his latest novel about Louisiana police officer Dave Robicheaux. Long exiled by the New Orleans force, he still retains a police role in the small suburban town of New Iberia where his helpful boss is his former partner, Helen Soileau. In this novel Dave is faced with a distraught father of a teenager killed in an auto accident after being sold illegal drugs and liquor and by an out-of-town assassin hired to kill a controversial priest. Burke adds to this incendiary mix the murder of the man who sold the girl drinks and a rich family mixed up in the long ago disappearance of a blues-writing convict. Together these provide plenty of complexities for Robicheaux and his private investigator friend, Clete Purcell, to sort out. In doing so Robicheaux must continually fight off the attractions of his former alcoholism and accommodate to the loss of his second wife.

Among the finely drawn and ultimately attractive characters in this novel is Max Coll, the hit man, who is faced down by his prey, Father Dolan. This confronts Coll with the impossibility of carrying out his assignment and he turns on those who hired him. For those unfamiliar with Burke, I urge you to try any of his Robicheaux novels. You'll find yourself reading all the others you can get your hands on.-- Gerry Rising