Last summer, I discovered James Lee Burke and ended up reading all 14 Dave Robicheaux mysteries in quick succession. Thank goodness Burke just came out with Pegasus Descending as it's been a long 8 months without a fix.
Dave Robicheaux is still a detective, working for the Iberia Sheriff's Department. The year is 2005 and three unsolved deaths are on Robicheaux's plate. First, a young co-ed getting ready for college is found with a gunshot wound to her head. It looks like a suicide, and the detective can't figure out why this apparently happy, well-adjusted girl would have taken too many drugs, had sex with more than a few men and then shot herself. The skeletal remains of a homeless man (nicknamed Crustacean Man) are found in a drainage ditch and seem to have sat there for 12 months. His injuries are not consistent with a hit and run. And a college student, Tony Lujan, is killed with a shotgun. Robicheaux suspects that all three deaths are related, but can't find the pieces that will tie this puzzle together. He keeps coming back to the same names: Bellerophon Lujan and Whitey Bruxal, two men who have mob ties and are in the casino business. Unfortunately, the politically ambitious DA, Lonnie Marceaux, wants to pin the crimes on a small-tine black drug dealer, Monarch Little. How Pegasus Descending plays out is riveting and I was completely surprised at the end.
Many of Burke's characters that we have grown to know and love are back. Cletus Purcell is always there for Robicheaux and is always good for a few belly laughs. Robicheaux seems a little more grounded with his new wife, the former nun Molly Boyle. The women in Robicheaux's past tended to be victim-types. So it's refreshing for Robicheaux to have two strong women in his corner, wife Molly and Sheriff Helen Soileau. There is a new female FBI agent in town who provides some comic relief. Betsy Mossbacher gets the nickname Calamity Jane when she backs into a sheriff's cruiser her first day in town. Robicheaux can't decide whether Homeland Security has drained the FBI of their "first team" or maybe she's being punished. But despite the humor, there is always an underlying blackness in Burke's books whether it is caused by Robicheaux's battle with alcoholism, lost opportunities, senseless deaths, and with Pegasus Descending, the looming specter of Hurricane Katrina.
Many writers of mystery series run out of energy, ideas, characters, etc. once they've been at it for awhile. Luckily for his readers, Burke is still at the top of his game in Pegasus Descending.