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This review is of the book "Purple Cane Road" by James Lee Burke. The book is the eleventh in the author's "Detective Dave Robicheaux" mystery series of books. The ISBN of the book is 0752843346. The basic plot line of Purple Cane Road is that the central character in the title, Dave Robicheaux, discovered that his own mother was not only a prostitute, but that she had died in a very unfortunate way. He was told that "the claims are that two cops drowned her in a mud puddle. They shot somebody and put a throw-down on the corpse", and that these police officers were working for the mob. Along with Clete Purcell, his fellow detective, the two set out to solve the mystery of what actually happened, but find themselves getting rather more involved in the politics and vice worlds than they had initially expected. Robicheaux was advised against trying to find out the truth, as the sheriff said to him, "Ernest Hemingway said chasing the past is a bum way to live your life" in what I thought was a good quote! In terms of the quality of the writing, I enjoyed it, I thought the dialogue was very good, I was a little less impressed at the character development however, it doesn't seem as genuine as in other books by both the same author, and similar titles. But the story line in the book flowed well, and remained an interesting read. I wouldn't call the book a page turner, it wasn't a book I read in a couple of sittings, and it took me a little while to complete it. Maybe it was the lack of character development that meant although I enjoyed the book, I wasn't interested and engrossed enough in the book to be desperate to get to the end and the final uncovering of what actually happened. I've only a couple of books from this series, and there is clearly a lot of raw emotion in the basic storyline of the book, and the plot line is certainly powerful. For the detective, he has to deal with the respect of his mother's memory, the wish to find out what happened, and for those responsible to be held accountable for what they've done. The book was originally published in 2000 but remains in print and the retail price is 7.99 pounds. At the time of writing, you can buy the book from Amazon new for 5.99 pounds, but if you're happy with a second hand copy, at the moment these are available from sites such as eBay and Amazon for around three pounds including postage. In summary, this is an interesting book which I enjoyed, and I will start to find the author's other books in the Robicheaux series. For me at least I thought that the character's dialogue in the title was better than the development of the characters and the locations, but the book was interesting enough and fun to read. Definitely worth a look if you're looking for another series of books to read.
Since discovering the Dave Robicheaux novels by James Lee Burke I have become an addict to his down to earth style of writing. In Purple Cane Road, Robicheaux gets caught up in the search for his mother's murderer (amongst other things). He is tormented by a killer who constantly contacts him with helpful hints making his decisions even more difficult since he knows he should be trying to bring the 'friendly' killer in. Robicheaux is a reformed alcoholic who seems to have no trouble hanging around his best friend Clete - his hard drinking ex cop partner. In fact a large portion of the book is devoted to getting Clete out of one serious, and often deadly, scrape after another. Burke's portrayal of Robicheaux's vulnerable side, his love for his wife Bootsie and his protective attitude towards adopted daughter Alafair give the character a dimension often missing in heroes of this type of thriller. Robicheaux is doggedly determined and puts his career on the line in his search for his mothers killer. He knows cops were involved but who and how. He is also hell bent on setting the record straight about her reputation. As a kid he always knew she had disastrous affairs with men while her husband worked away in the oil fields but as he sees it calling her a "hooker" is different ballgame. A tortuous story but so well thought out and written that you never lose the plot. I'm saving my pennies to buy my next Dave Robicheaux story. A thrilling read
The beauty of Burke's writing is the carefully crafted gorgeous run on sentences (amazing in their delicacy of word choices) contrasted with the violence that spurts from his finely developed characters. Purple Cane Road is the 17th (?) of his novels and almost perfect. (More on "almost" in a second). He brings to bear familiar characters (Bootsie, Batist, Alafair, Cletus Purcell, the Sherriff), but ties it to a core value of Burke's: family. Robicheaux, in the course of a typically brutal "investigation" by Clete, his best friend, hears that his mother was murdered by detectives from the New Orleans Police Department and that she was a hooker. While Robicheaux realizes that his mother was not a queen, he is shaken. A whore? Murdered? Murdered by the NOPD? Luckily Robicheaux is still on the wagon or we would see him swirl into drink, despair... His AA outlook saves him. Okay, I was disappointed in the lack of exploration of some of the characters. They are introduced but not fully explored -- if I had not read previous Robicheaux novels, they would have seemed hurried in their introduction. On a scale of 1 to 10, the styling of the book gets a 9.5 -- the prose, the evocation of the scenes, the way i could practically smell the sea air/salt... On a scale of 1 to 10, the action is a 10. Brutal, but realistic. One item surprised me: Dave rarely talks about the daily life of being a police officer. In this novel, we get a few paragraphs on how difficult (the things you see, the people you interact with, the smell of it...) it can be to be a cop. Whenever I finish a James Lee Burke novel or watch NYPD Blue, I think, Man, I wish I could craft something as clear, true and compelling as this. While travelling through Missoula, MT this summer, I almost looked up James Lee Burke in the phone book, to call and say, "Thanks for creating such a robust, honest, tough character ." But then I thought, heck, if he's like Robicheaux, he doesn't need my interruption. He wrote the book because he had demons to exercise and wanted to help people -- his written civil duty. Buy it tonight. Don't plan on sleeping much.