“Was it you or Purcel who said most of the world’s ills could be corrected with a three-day open season on people?”
“It was Ernest Hemingway.”
“I’ve got to read more of him.”
On a recent vacation, I ran out of reading material (!!) and took the opportunity to visit the local Half Price Books. I was happy to indulge in an old favorite, James Lee Burke, and also to read something I picked out all by myself.
Pegasus Descending is not one of the more recent Dave Robicheaux novels, although it’s not one of the first, either, which surprised me. It reads like quintessential, vintage James Lee Burke, and vintage JLB means excellent JLB: I enjoyed it very much.
To place this one in the series for Burke fans: Robicheaux is married to Molly the former nun in this installment, and working as a detective for the New Iberia (Louisiana) PD, where his boss is the androgynous, likeable Helen Soileau. Clete Purcel comes into play, too, and unsurprisingly falls for a dangerous woman (what else is new). The novel starts with a flashback to Robicheaux’s hard drinking days, when he watched a good friend’s murder and was too drunk to stop it. Flash forward again, and that man’s daughter enters Robicheaux’s jurisdiction and tries to pass marked bills to a casino. He feels obliged to help her if he can, out of respect for his dead friend. At the same time, a young woman shows up dead – by murder? suicide? – to whose family Robicheaux also feels some responsibility. Against the advice of his superiors and wife (again, what else is new), he insists upon pressing the buttons of a few dangerous, powerful, criminal men around town, and the bodies continue to mount.
Burke’s favorite themes are all present: difficulties with alcohol and authority; the sensations of the air off the bayou and the local cooking and culture; the imperfections that lie deep within our psyches; race relations; and the question of pure evil. Also family dynamics and love and battered, bruised redemption. I love this guy.