Burke, James Lee. Creole Belle. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012.
Reviewed by J. d'Artagnan Love
James Lee Burke is an award winning author with Guggenheim and Breadloaf fellowships, Crime Novel of the Year Award, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship all under his belt. He has written and published over thirty novels, many of which were a part of the Dave Robicheaux series of which Creole Belle is an installation.
Creole Belle picks up after Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, best friends and fellow employees of the justice system, are shot in a previous novel. The story begins with Dave in the hospital recovering from his wounds where he is visited by Tee Jolie Melton, a zydeco singer in New Orleans. Tee Jolie is in a bad situation with some shady oil men and is asking for Dave's help. Unfortunately, none of Dave's family or friends believe that the visit was real because Tee Jolie had recently gone missing. It is assumed that Tee Jolie's visit was a figment of Dave's morphine-fueled imagination.
Once Dave is released from the hospital, he and Clete become entangled in a mystery of mob men and low-lifes being popped right and left by a woman Clete believes to be his long-lost daughter. From here, I can't go into much more without spoiling the story.
Burke has a very interesting writing style. The first thing that caught my attention was his use of point of view. The book is told half from Dave's point of view in first person limited and then shifts to third person point of view for the other half of the story, following Clete and other important characters through Southern Louisiana. The switch was not jarring and I actually really liked the variance in point of view. It gives the readers insight into the story and into Dave's character in particular. This really added to the complex crime narrative that was very well crafted.
Speaking of characters--this is where the novel fell flat for me. Granted, this could be because this book is part of a series. It could be that the character development has happened in earlier novels and I just missed out from not reading the earlier stories. That being said, I found the characters to be fairly stock, archetypal, and empty. All the good guys had the same blunt, cold, logical personality with a few quirks here and there. All the bad guys had the same manipulative, seductive, and sociopathic tendencies. Good guys were the same. Bad guys were the same. I wasn't able to connect with any of the good guys because they just seemed to blend together. There wasn't anything significant or interesting about any one of them that I could hold onto. Some of the descriptions of the bad guys' appearances were interesting and unique, but their personalities were all the same.
Characters are so important to me as a reader that I just cannot honestly say I enjoyed this read. I came really, really close to liking it because the plot was so interesting and I loved the descriptions of New Orleans and Louisiana. Perhaps if I had read some of the earlier novels, I'd have a better understanding of the characters and it would have been more enjoyable. So, my advice with this series is: start at the beginning. It is difficult to jump into it in the later books.
2.5 darts out of 5
Bookshelf Project Status: None--it was a library book.