Robicheaux’s World Through Clete’s Eyes

 

James Lee Burke has written two dozen books about Louisiana cop Dave Robicheaux. Present in most is Robicheaux’s former partner and friend Cletus Purcel. A former Marine, onetime New Orleans cop, and ex-Central American mercenary, Purcel returned to Louisiana and set up as a private investigator with offices in New Orleans and Dave’s New Iberia.

Clete is the twenty-fourth Dave Robicheaux novel by Burke. It differs from the earlier books because Clete Purcel is the point-of-view character, not Dave Robicheaux. It is also a chronological throwback in the series. It is set in the late 1990s shortly after the death of Robicheaux’s third wife, Bootsie, when Robicheaux’s adopted daughter Alifer is off to college for the first time.

Clete is fond of Cadillac convertibles, some of which he rebuilds. This included a 1959 Eldorado which he restored to cherry condition. He took it to Eddy’s carwash for cleaning and detailing, picking it up four days later. Two days after that he awakens at home to the sounds of his car being torn apart by three men.

In the ensuing confrontation Clete realizes something was hidden in his car while at the carwash. Clete does not know what it was or why it was placed there, but suspects it was Fentanyl. He aims to discover both what and why.

While investigating the car’s vandalism he gains a new client, Clara Bow. She wants to hire Clete to investigate her ex-husband Lauren. She claims he is trying to kill her. Clete is a sucker for a damsel in distress. (He attempts to rescue several in this book.) Despite her dodgy story, and against his better judgment, he takes the case.

Bow’s case and the hunt for the reasons behind the Cadillac’s vandalism soon merge. Clete recruits Dave’s help. Both trails unearth dark secrets, a string of dead bodies, and several attempts to kill both Clete and Dave. The stress soon has Clete seeing ghosts from a distant past and receiving unwelcome visits from crooked cops and unsympathetic Federal agents.

Clete differs in its narrator from the rest of the Dave Robicheaux series, but not in quality. Burke delivers the same deeply layered story that typifies the series. Violent and gripping, it is shot with humor. Clete Purcel is revealed as a man with multiple flaws who simultaneously possesses the heart and code of the knight errant of medieval romance.

“Clete: A Dave Robicheaux Novel,” by James Lee Burke, Atlantic Monthly Press, June 2024, 336 pages, $28.00 (Hardcover), $28.00 (E-book), $19.49 (Audiobook)

This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.

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