Burke’s Dave Robicheaux Chases Demons Down Purple Cane Road


Spring 2004 (Vol V, No. 1) Table of Contents


When James Lee Burke sits down to write a Dave Robicheaux novel, the room must fill with swirling morning fog, mangrove trees reflected in coffee-colored bayou waters and the sibilant sounds of critters that populate southern Louisiana swamps–at least in his mind. How else could this author recreate the often dark and moody, yet strangely beautiful, ambiance of the Bayou Teche country that forms the backdrop for the Robicheaux series?

Burke crafted another haunting tour de force with Purple Cane Road, not his latest Dave Robicheaux novel, but one of his best. It is laced with the poetic, evocative imagery and fully fleshed-out characters, often hacked from the seamiest strata of real life, that typify his work. And it sets the New Iberia detective on a driven course to find the true story behind his mother’s death.

Was she a whore killed by a Giacana gang member? Robicheaux does not want to believe this version of her death and soon finds hints of a more disturbing possibility: that dirty cops from the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) killed her.

Complex subplots provide additional twists and turns as Robicheaux gropes his way toward a solution. The mystery haunts him–and stirs up feelings of anger and vengeance so powerful that they threaten to demolish his long-held concepts of morality, justice and his own responsibilities as an officer of the law.

His friends fear that his obsession may destroy him. Even Clete Purcell, Dave’s former partner on the NOPD and never known for his restraint or caution, shows concern.

“What you want is God’s permission to paint the trees with bad guys. That ain’t going to happen, big mon.”

His boss, the New Iberia Sheriff, and partner, Helen Soileau, share Clete’s view. In the end, however, all three help him solve the mystery and at least partially exorcise his demons.

If you haven’t read any of Burke’s Robicheaux books before, Purple Cane Road is a good choice to try for openers. If you’re already a fan, don’t miss this one!

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