Book Review: James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle

Posted September 10, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle

Creole Belle

in Hardcover edition on July 17, 2012 and has 528 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

Nineteenth in the Davie Robicheaux mystery series revolving around an ex-alcoholic cop, his family, and his friends in the bayous of Louisiana, Iberia Parish in particular.

This particular story is afloat in the oil that escaped when an oil well blew. The cover-up for it is fast and loose with a lot of fast talkers explaining what good guys the oil companies are. Uh-huh. More concerned with their profits than in the lives they’ve destroyed.

My Take

The shootings, kidnappings, torture, contracts, subtle threats, and the verbal taunting that goes on will find you with your heart in your mouth on this one. I just kept waiting for that knife or bullet to be in the wrong place and destroy a character I love. Or for Molly to get so angry that she leaves!

It’s one of those stories where if the crooks had just left it alone, they’d probably have gotten away with it. Instead they keep poking and prodding, leaving small trails for the Homicide Twins to follow.

The corruption in Louisiana is tremendous. Finding a decent cop seems to be more of a miracle than anything else including raising the dead. You have a better chance of justice if you’re connected or are wealthy. Clete used to be one of the corrupt and now he’s making amends. Still, he and Dave suffer from horrible dreams about Vietnam, the men they’ve killed, their past with family. Clete still chooses to self-medicate while Dave continues to recover. Part of his recovery are the ghosts he sees.

There’s no question that Clete and Dave are a couple of wild cannons. They’re also the only ones who can see the forest for the trees.

Usually Burke layers on the description of the bayous and the architecture. In this story, he concentrates on the reminiscences of the two main characters and their regrets. Dave spends quite a bit of time thinking of the negative aspect of his gutter drinking days with both men engaging in some heavy-duty introspection. They accept that the past is past and that today is the start of a new future.

It’s an odd relationship that Clete develops with his daughter. And it takes a long while before he confesses. Gretchen has her own regrets and dreams. I do like how Alafair calls Dave on it when he’s acting against the principles he taught her.

Okay, I’m not very nice myself sometimes…I sure did enjoy what Gretchen did to Pierre and his two cronies. Jerks.

In the end, I’m with Clete, take ’em out to keep ’em from comin’ back.

The Story

Seems that shoot-out in Glass Rainbow didn’t settle it for the bad guys even though it laid Dave and Clete up in hospital for a bit. The scam that Golightly and Grimes try to pull is just another angle that goes wrong although it does bring Clete the one other person he wants in his life.

The men who want Dave and Clete gone have no conscience and will go after anyone the two men consider friends or family.

The Characters

Dave Robicheaux has been through a lot and come through it. A tour in Vietnam, years on the force in New Orleans and now as a detective in his hometown in Iberia Parish. He’s a recovering alcoholic and he’s done a lot he’s not proud of. He’s done even more that he can be proud of. Molly is an ex-nun whom he helped stories ago and they got married. Alafair is their adopted daughter. A little girl Dave rescued from drowning while trapped in a sinking plane. She’s now graduated just about first in her class in law from Stanford University and is finishing her first novel; her degree is forensic psychology is helping flesh it out. Tripod is their three-legged raccoon; Snuggs is their guardian cat.

Clete Purcel is a caricature. As he tells us over and over in Creole Belle, he’s old, fat, and so unhealthy it’s not even funny. Breakfast starts with booze and fat and his bedtime snack concludes the same way. He’s got more nightmares than any twenty people and he’s a stand-up guy in spite of the things he has in his past. He owns the wrongs he’s done and he does his best to do right. He and Dave were partners with the NOPD back in the day, the Homicide Twins. Now he’s a private detective with two offices and is a one-man demolition team on the side. Alice Werenhaus is another former nun and she works as Clete’s secretary in his New Orleans office.

Helen Soileau is the sheriff in Iberia Parish and she’s covered for Dave and Clete often enough. Catin Segura is a single mother, a decent woman, and a sheriff’s deputy. Being female and black creates some bad troubles for her. Julie Ardoin is another deputy who can handle a seaplane. Dana Magelli is with the NOPD; he’s about the last cop in New Orleans who’ll even speak to Dave or Clete.

Gretchen Horowitz is the daughter Clete never met, he could never find. Until the night he saw her cap a bad guy. Candy is her mother and she’s always been more interested in her next fix than how her revolving door of men treated her daughter.

Tee Jolie Melton is a young beautiful Cajun girl who sings amazingly well whom Dave knows from St. Martinville. She keeps having conversations with Dave that no one else will believe. Avery DeBlanc is her grandfather and he says she’s been missing for three months. Then her little sister Blue went missing (she does come bobbing up…later).

Frankie Giacano found an old marker from Clete in a safe his uncle used to own that he’s sold to Bix Golightly. Waylon Grimes is a “part-time killer and full-time punk” working for Bix. Caruso is a hit man. Jimmie the Dime is a snitch partnered up with Count Carbona, an autistic savant who remembers everything he sees or hears.

Pierre Dupree owned that safe. He’s an artist who’s in marketing and lives with his father in a restored plantation house in Jeanerette. Seems Pierre has a lot of different sides to him. Few of them good. Most of them inherited, most like from his grandfather/father, Alexis Dupree, who claims to be a concentration camp survivor and an aura that will make you run. Varina Leboeuf Dupree is divorcing Pierre and, from the sound of it, she could have anyone she wanted. She’s made something of herself and Dave has a lot of respect for her. At first. All the Duprees are sick. Her father is a former cop, Jesse Leboeuf. A throwback to the bad old days.

Amidee Broussard is a televangelist with appetites. Bobby Joe Guidry gets his eyes opened. An unexpected response from someone running in this crowd. Lamont Woolsey and Hubert Donnelly seem to be fixers for an oil company.

The Cover and Title

The cover is brilliantly gorgeous with its electric colors laid down to form a narrow street in New Orleans with its overhanging balconies, arched doorways, and shutters and an old-fashioned gaslight.

The title can go several ways. My first thought was Tee Jolie, a Creole Belle who worries Dave. Then I got to thinking…Dave does a lot of thinking and reminiscing in this one about New Orleans and Louisiana. Another Creole belle. Of course there’s also the song Dave mentions when talking about a painting.