In New Iberia, Louisiana, memories are long and dangerous, and the past and present are seldom easy to untangle. Homicide investigator Dave Robicheaux is trying to help Letty Labiche, a New Iberia girl on death row for killing the man who molested her and her sister as children, when chance brings him to Zipper Clum, a pimp and pornographer who recognizes Robicheaux secondhand through a 30-year haze:
"Robicheaux, your mama's name was Mae.... Wait, it was Guillory before she married. That was the name she went by ... Mae Guillory. But she was your mama," he said.
"What?" I said.
He wet his lips uncertainly.
"She dealt cards and still hooked a little bit. Behind a club in Lafourche Parish. This was maybe 1966 or '67," he said.
Clete's eyes were fixed on my face. "You're in a dangerous area, sperm breath," he said to Zipper.
"They held her down in a mud puddle. They drowned her," Zipper said.
To Robicheaux, whose memories of the fun-loving Mae are few and bittersweet, the news comes like a bolt of lightning. Though she abandoned him to the uncertain mercies of a violent, alcoholic father, he loved her, and his desire to find her killers--cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family, according to Clum--is instantaneous and deeply felt. Unfortunately, Zipper Clum meets the wrong end of a .25 automatic soon after his electrifying announcement, but his conversation with his killer is recorded--and Mae Guillory's name comes up again.
The winding trail of evidence connected to both Letty Labiche and Mae Guillory leads Robicheaux almost immediately to Jim Gable, the New Orleans Police Department's liaison with city hall, whose position has afforded him a number of less-than-legal advantages. Gable also happens to be an ex-lover of Robicheaux's wife, Bootsie--formerly the widow of Ralph Giacano. From there the web of connections grows ever wider, and (not surprisingly) incriminates those in high places. These include the state attorney general, a woman who, if photographic evidence is to be trusted, was once friendly with the Labiches' parents, who were known procurers.
But if Purple Cane Road has its share of corrupt powermongers, it's also filled with beautifully rounded characters, like piano-playing governor Belmont Pugh and hit man Johnny Remeta, whose personality slowly begins to unravel as he gets closer to Robicheaux's daughter. The plot converges seamlessly to its climax--the true story of what happened to Mae Robicheaux--as James Lee Burke's trademark of uncompromising justice is brought to fruition. Like Burke's other Robicheaux novels, Purple Cane Road offers a solidly satisfying piece in the picture of a complex hero. --Barrie Trinkle
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From Publishers Weekly
HAfter the relatively lightweight Sunset Limited (1998), Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux returns in a powerhouse of a thriller that shows Burke writing near the peak of his form. Robicheaux faces his most personal case yet, when a pimp puts him on the trail of the truth behind his mother's long-ago disappearance. Meanwhile, he uncovers new evidence in the case of death-row inmate Letty Labiche, who took a mattock to the man who molested her as a child, state executioner Vachel Carmouche. Burke parades the usual cast of grotesques: feckless Louisiana governor Belmont Pugh; cold-blooded attorney general Connie Deshotel; sleazy police liaison officer Jim Gable, who "keeps the head of a Vietnamese soldier in a jar of chemicals"; and psychopathic hit man Johnny Remata, who acts as all-around avenging angel. Wife Bootsie's having had a fling with Gable drives Robicheaux into a jealous fury more than once, while daughter Alafair's flirtation with Johnny raises the temperature even higher. Old buddy Clete Purcell doesn't have a lot to do, other than to contribute to the general mayhem. Once Robicheaux learns that his mother fell afoul of a couple of New Orleans cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family, it's a simple matter of identifying the guilty pair and bringing them to justiceDor is it? Burke winds up an often convoluted and gratuitously violent plot with a dynamite ending that will leave readers feeling truly satisfied, if a bit shell-shocked. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.)
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