Sunday, August 25, 2013

Not at all blue

James Lee Burke
Reviewed by Carol
Five stars
Recommended for: fans of deeply flawed detectives and southern noir

Read on August 23, 2013, read count: twice

Sometimes I wonder if you can really like the Robicheaux series. It isn't easy witnessing a man struggle with his demons, both internal and external, to root for him and watch him both succeed and fail, sometimes in the same breath.

Dave isn't a simple person, which is one of the attractive aspects of him as centerpiece to a series. He knows his weaknesses, fights them and yet is unable to avoid following his pattern, like Sysiphus hauling the boulder again and again only to watch it roll downhill. He's been seeing a therapist since his wife died, and they have an oddly telling discussion:
"'Cut loose from the past. She wouldn't want you to carry a burden like this.'
'I can't. I don't want to.'
'Say it again.'
'I don't want to.'
He was bald and his rimless glasses were full of light. He turned his palms up toward me and was silent.'"


Book three in the Dave Robicheaux series opens in a motel, Dave dreaming of the helpless night his wife Anne was murdered. Restless and haunted, he heads to an all-night diner and runs into Dixie Lee Pugh, former roommate, master blues singer, old-time rock-n-roller and dedicated drinker. They only spend a few minutes together, but shortly after, Dixie looks Dave up for help with a couple of thuggish business acquaintances. From there, Dixie's flailing, drunken attempts to stay out of Angola pull Dave into a world of hurt. As he asks a few questions on Dixie's behalf, he runs into his former partner Clete. Dave watches him drive away and wishes him a powerful blessing:
"Whatever you're operating on, I hope it's as pure and clean as white gas and bears you aloft over the places where the carrion birds clatter."
Dave almost breaks free of Dixie's situation when the thugs threaten Alafair; Dave's inner demons take over and he finds himself facing a murder charge. Freeing himself will mean digging deeper into Dixie's connections in Montana.

Burke weaves his trademark beautiful, evocative beginning, bringing the varied landscape of the deep south to life, from Louisiana to the edges of Texas. In fact, it's fair to say that the setting stands in for Dave Robicheaux's emotions, and it seems to be raining quite a bit in the bayou these days. Unfortunately, setting doesn't seem to work as well after they head up to Montana, the land of pines, mountainous geography and multi-colored streams. Memories of the south stand in instead.

There is just a touch of humor in this, the kind that makes me smile, albeit crookedly:

"But I had never bought very heavily into the psychiatric definitions of singularity and eccentricity in people. In fact, as I reviewed the friendships I had had over the years, I had to conclude that the most interesting ones involved the seriously impaired--the Moe Howard account, the drunken, the mind-smoked, those who began each day with a nervous breakdown, people who hung on to the sides of the planet with suction cups."

Once the story moved to Montana, I found Clete and Dixie rapidly took over the story with their extravagant personalities. I didn't mind, but if anyone is more flawed than Dave, it's Clete. Clete is no fool either, and is well aware he's Dave's stalking horse:
"'Why'd you keep partnering with me at the First District after you saw me bend a couple of guys out of shape?' He grinned at me. 'Maybe because I'd do the things you really wanted to. Just maybe. Think about it.'"

Character arcs and redemption go farther than I expected, and if the villain is a bit of a sociopath, he's a frustrated sociopath with resources and its no less frightening for it. Batist is well done and avoids both disrespect and pitfalls of the loyal support character. Alafair is written appropriately for a young child, and one of my favorite moments is when Dave acknowledges the foolishness of telling her to be brave: "She had experienced a degree of loss and violence in her short life that most people can only appreciate in their nightmares."

The first read was somewhat less than satisfying, perhaps because I was pushing the mood and the speed. Burke does not write thrillers, although they certainly have their share of violence and mayhem, and his stories are not conducive to skimming. Visual setting and childhood memories are as important as suspect interviews. The second time--largely accomplished on a comfy lounge chair in the sun--was far more successful and satisfying. I always want to visit the bayou after I'm finished with Dave Robicheaux.

Highly recommended. Note: it won Burke's first Edgar Award.
Four and a half, five stars.

Cross posted at

Another Little Piece

Another Little Piece
by Kate Karyus Quinn

Reviewed by Sesana
Five out of five stars

Publisher Summary:

On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn't know who she is. She doesn't know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese's fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

My Review:

I can't talk about the plot of this book in much detail. There's a lot to discover, and it's far better to learn the whole truth of Annaliese through reading. This is one of those situations where getting spoiled could entirely ruin the experience. The publisher summary strikes a pretty good balance between telling enough to hook a reader and keeping enough held back to preserve the secrets of the book, so I'll leave it at that. I should also point out that there are shifting timelines, and those parts of the book can happen very suddenly. You have to be ready to roll with the punches in the book. For me, the first time it happened I was a bit thrown, but I was ready for it the next time it happened.

What I can talk about is the feel of the book, the sense of getting thrown off balance every fifty pages or so. Annaliese's memory is a blank as the book begins, so she's learning at the same pace as the reader. And it takes nearly the entire length of the book to learn the whole truth of who and what and why she is. Not that every question is answered within the pages of the book. If you hate loose ends, this is the sort of book that will frustrate you. But if you can take and are even intrigued by a book that deliberately leaves things unexplained to the reader (they are, after all, unexplained to Annaliese, and we shouldn't expect them to be), then that's a point in this book's favor.

More points for the characters, particularly our narrator. Annaliese starts from a very vulnerable position, naturally. No memory, apparently victim of a horrible crime, and being sent to live with people she is told are her parents but she can't remember nor have any immediate feelings for. And she shows that vulnerability, but she is by no means a weak character. I would describe her as someone determined to find herself in a stable life, but not someone willing to let others do that work for her. As a character, I found her fully believable. And the same goes for the secondary characters, particularly her parents. Quinn definitely thought about the impact this scenario (a vanished child returns after a year missing) would have on a loving family.

There is romance, of course. This is YA. Luckily, the romance developed at a believable pace and for believable reasons. No instalove! I understand what Annaliese sees in Dex, and what he sees in her. And it doesn't distract from the main point of the story. The romance doesn't take over the rest of the book, which is probably the main reason I like it. It's not that I have a problem with romance, I just don't like it taking over stories when I should be able to concentrate on what are, in the context of the book, much more important things.

I was just riveted by this book, especially towards the end. I read it mostly during my lunch break at work, and at the end of my breaks surprised both by how quickly lunch had gone by and how much I'd managed to read in that time. And that's why I'm bumping up this 4.5 star book to 5 stars. It isn't perfect, but it is wonderful.

I won an ARC of this book from The Midnight Garden blog. Thanks, guys! I loved it!

Also reviewed at Goodreads.