Black Cherry Blues
by James Lee Burke
Dixie Lee Pugh, former country star, now alcoholic leaseman wants help from Dave Robicheaux, an ex cop whose wife was recently murdered and who just wants to get through life. Dixie tell Dave about an overheard conversation regarding what he thinks were murders committed by two of his co-workers. Dave doesn’t want to get involved, but after Dixie is almost killed, then arrested and after threats are made against Dave’s loved ones, he can’t help but become involved. He faces possible conspiracy within an oil company and a gangster with whom Dixie is associated.
I’m not saying that if you’ve read one of Burke’s Robicheaux books you’ve read them all, but there are similar qualities to all of them. I don’t think the mystery is all that complicated, but what makes Burke’s books of first rate quality are the characters and the writing.
Dave Robicheaux: 49, former cop, recovered alcoholic, first wife left him, second wife was murdered, father died in a oil drilling accident, mother was unfaithful in the marriage, has a brother, owns a boat rental in New Iberia, owns a three legged raccoon, attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute, physically fit, has a stomach scar, mustache, Vietnam vet, has a half brother,
Dixie Lee Pugh: 49, former country/rock star, former prison inmate, alcoholic, lease man for an oil company, multiple murders, blond, roommate of Dave’s at SLI, drives a pink convertible Cadillac, had a son who died in an electrical fire
Alafair: 6, El Salvadoran, lives with Dave, brown eyes, wide set front teeth, parents dead
Clarise: elderly mulatto who works for Dave, turquoise eyes, uses snuff and smokes
Batiste: black, partner with Dave in the boat rental business, strong, bald, married, illiterate, smokes cigarss
Dan Nygurski: DEA special agent, erect posture, solid body, 5’5”, thick neck, mono-brow, hillbilly accent, thinning dark hair
Sally ‘Sal the Duck’ Dio: involved in various crimes, has done prison time, lean and hard bodied, sharp features, scar on his face, plays the drums, father was a big time mobster, divorced
Cletus Purcel: Dave’s friend, ugly face, green eyes, scar on his face, sandy hair, big shoulders, former partner from Dave’s homicide days in New Orleans, was married, took drugs, smokes, wears a porkpie hat
I love the characters. I think, like I mentioned above about Burke’s books, they all have similar qualities. Nobody is all good and the baddies are really bad. I’ve listened to a lot of Burke’s mysteries and the narrator does an excellent job. I really enjoy Purcel but everybody in this story contributed to make the story whole. I don’t think you could take one character out and have a complete story.
You can’t help but listen. Personalities and voices come through clear. Pugh speaks of his past glory days. I think even Dave’s reflections of the past, his philosophizing, and his dreams are part of the dialogue he’s having with the reader. Dave’s telling the story to one person and that person is sitting next to him on the steps drinking a beer or a soda and gazing out at the bayou.
This the first Burke novel I’ve read. The others I’ve listened to the audio books narrated by Will Patton. (I recall I may have listened to this one, too, long ago.) I still hear the same Patton voice, though when I read it. I love the little details that pulled me into the Louisiana atmosphere. Words as simple as paper plates, pecan trees, mimosa trees, nutria, moss can spur the imagination. The slow, laid back way layered with sadness, is just…magical. The similes and phrasing are uniquely Burke. (The water is not calm; it’s undented.)Some profanity but nothing too overwhelming and it’s used because that’s how the characters speak, not because Burke throws it in for gratuitous’ sake. First person from Dave’s POV. Long chapters. The violence is swift and deadly and no nonsense. One thing I will say about Burke’s stories is that one can tide me over for awhile. I can’t listen to them one right after another. I tried that once and was too overwhelmed. I need a break, a breather. One book and I’m set for a time. Two or three right in a row and I lose the magic or rather i’m swamped in it. Burke is unique and a rare treasure. The man knows how to write and I’ve not seen anybody come close to his style…and don’t want to. That person would be a pale comparison. Burke and Black Cherry Blues deserves the top rank of: