CREOLE BELLE by James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke’s new Dave Robicheaux novel is, I’m guessing, the longest book he’s ever written. It’s also at once the most layered and sometimes the most confusing of his novels I’ve ever read, and I’ve read most of them and enjoyed them a lot.
I enjoyed this one too. Creole Belle is part eerie Southern Gothic, part murder mystery, and part edgy suspense novel. And there’s a lot of stuff in there about fathers and daughters at times as well. The second generation Robicheaux and Clete Purcell certainly get their share of stage time, and they show that they’re pretty much chips off the old blocks.
Alafair, Dave’s adopted daughter, is becoming more and more Burke’s real world daughter, Alafair. I don’t know who Clete Purcell really is in Burke’s life, but the character must be based on someone he knows. I wonder if he has a daughter like Gretchen.
The overall plot this time veered away from Dave a lot, which I can understand after the last book. Clete and Dave both figured prominently in that one, and we really needed to see how they got it back together. So those two storylines, because they diverged, inflated the book somewhat. Throw in additional sidelines detailing Alafair and Gretchen’s adventures, and the book swelled to nearly 550 pages.
I read the book on Kindle and I no longer look at page count so much. I either throw myself at a book or I coast through one. I threw myself at Creole Belle because it was so interesting and I’d had to wait two years to see the events following The Glass Rainbow. I read and I read for days, and didn’t seem to be getting through it. It wasn’t until I checked Amazon to see how long the book actually was that I understood there wasn’t anything wrong with my reading speed. The book was just monstrous.
With everything going on, and the length, there is some repetition of the plot. Probably more to remind the reader where they are and what’s going on, and possible put in at the suggestion of an editor as well.
The book was long enough to be divided in half, but Burke winds all the plot threads together so intricately that trying to pull the pieces apart wouldn’t have worked. And I wouldn’t have wanted any of the characters left out or downgraded in some why either. The story is solid Burke, filled with thoughtful passages about life and people, poetic descriptions of Louisiana, and some really violent bad guys.