Crusader’s Cross by James Lee Burke. (Crime/Mystery Novel, 2005).
People who’ve read my reviews know I like a wide variety of genres. And of course I have my favored authors. Many of these are very prolific, and that is certainly the case with James Lee Burke. I’m hardly alone in my enthusiasm for Burke, as he’s a consistent Best Selling Author and Award Winner.
But I often find myself going back to older works I’ve missed. Again, as in this case.
Crusader’s Cross is another of Burke’s series of rough crime novels about Dave Robicheaux. This time out, the recovering alcoholic, Vietnam veteran and former lawman is summoned to the bedside of another ex-cop who is dying and wants to unburden himself about a mystery from many years ago.
Way back in 1958, the dying man was just a boy and witnessed ominous events regarding a young prostitute who disappeared in Galveston, Texas. At the same time, Dave and his half-brother Jimmy were young men, and living there between job stints related to the offshore oil industry. Jimmy was in love with her and had always feared that she was killed for attempting to leave her pimp for him.
This new info rekindles Dave’s interest in this very cold case. Then two more crooked small town cops (a species never in short supply in Dave’s Bayou stomping grounds) immediately confront him outside of the hospital and warn him not to pursue it. This–of course–makes him doubly determined to find the truth.
Dave knew that those cops answered to a rich and ruthless Cajun family. The Chalons, headed by Raphael, an old school Southern Gentleman with connections to organized crime all along the Gulf Coast. Along with son Valentine, an arrogant TV news exec, they ran pretty much everything in a mostly rural Parish located between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. Accordingly, they were not far from the mid-sized town of New Iberia (where the semi-retired Dave resided). How were the Chalons involved, and why were they so determined to prevent Dave’s looking into the events of half a lifetime ago?
A complex, often brutally violent and wide-ranging crime novel follows. There are twists and turns, and of course many things and people are not at all what they seem.
As always, a number of Dave’s regular friends, associates and a few frequent antagonists are featured. His earnest but sometimes wrongheaded brother plays a major part, of course. As does Clete Purcell, Dave’s ex-partner with the New Orleans police and an even bigger loose cannon than Robicheaux himself. Helen Soileau, New Iberia Parish’s first female sheriff, again serves as Dave’s reluctant defender and even brings him back to temporary duty with her department when a possible connection to an ongoing serial killer case arises. New Iberia’s sympathetic forensics expert and the intolerably gruff local coroner are also on hand.
Dave’s violent world tends to as hard on those he loves as on the man himself. He still visits the grave of his third wife, the much-missed Bootsie, periodically for solace. and now he encounters a new love–Molly. She’s not officially a nun, but is widely considered as such by the locals, as she runs a Catholic aid outfit for the poor–and is frequently at odds with the Chalons. Her affair with Dave is a mini-scandal, that Val Chalons is only too eager to exploit.
Eventually the pressure gets to Dave who has an alcoholic “slip” bad enough to cause a weekend-long blackout that leaves him briefly suspected of the brutal rape-murder of Val’s sexually aggressive yet mentally challenged sister.
Pimps, an aged hit man, a serial killer, racial and class secrets, love and death, betrayals great and small, blind loyalty and stubborn pride–this book explores all these factors. As such, this one is fairly standard ground for Burke–and handled with his usual skill.