I first must confess that New Iberia is my hometown, and New Iberia also hosted a Dave Robicheaux festival last year, which they hoped to turn into an annual event. I read this book because I wanted a taste of home, but I did not get that. I got a taste of New Orleans, which is all fine and dandy, but it's no New Iberia.
The prose is wonderful, and it reads very quickly. James Lee Burke is a great writer linguistically, but this story sucked.
My biggest complaint is the women. They're either prostitutes or a mothering angel like Annie. I am so, so highly disappointed that Robicheaux's love interest is a Midwestern blonde, blue-eyed woman. Why not a Cajun? Why an outsider? And you know why? It's because Cajun women don't put up with this kind of nonsense. Annie needs to get some sense and leave Dave immediately. Annie was shown doing high class women things, such as playing a cello and her eyes watering while barbecuing. She is the ultimate projection of femininity: caring, motherly, forgiving, and completely disappointing. Annie mentions she has a job, but we never see her at that job, and she never really discusses it either. She is an ideal woman on a pedal stool that exists essentially for emotional labor and sex, not a real well-rounded character.
Yet with Dave, he gets to be well-rounded. Oh, yes, he struggles with alcoholism, his role in the Vietnam War, and murder, but the author still makes him seem emotional and gives him a sensibility. Dave doesn't engage with the explicit racism of the city, but he definitely engages with the implicit racism.I thought Dave was a decent character, if not somewhat irritating as the book progressed.
I wish Annie would have had an abortion. It would have made her a much more interesting character. Why does she have to be a saint while Robicheaux doesn't?
To further complicate matters, blacks are shown as prostitutes and servants, essentially, and are thrown in with poor whites. This is supposed to be New Orleans, and historically, New Orleans had rich, high class black people. Why are the high class blacks?
The ending sucks, and it makes me dislike the book more. It's relatively happy, but it's also annoying for some reason I can't quite figure out. He just quits and goes off into the sunset. Really? Really, dude? I'm considering classifying Robicheaux as an annoying character, but I'm not quite there yet. He's impulsive and does stuff that he knows is wrong, but somehow it turns out alright in the end because his actions are "honorable."
As a Cajun, it is frustrating to see Dave's alcoholism, mostly because alcoholism runs through Cajun families, and it is undeniably part of our culture. The grittiness? Yeah, that's part of our culture too, but it was still unenjoyable to read about it. It sucks to be reminded that no matter how high you get in life, alcoholism is always there in the background. It seems no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to escape the cruelty of the culture. Tourists might get to see the good and skip the bad, but those of us who grew up in it have few escape paths, except to leave Louisiana. I guess you can't get the good unless you accept the bad.
Even though this book is well written, it is still off-putting, especially because of Burke's portrayal of his female characters, Robicheaux's impulsiveness, and the depictions of blacks (even if it is somewhat historically accurate). I guess I was expecting something else. It's not a terrible book, but I want something different but still Cajun. I won't be continuing with this series, and I'll try to find other books with Cajun characters.