BLACK CHERRY BLUES

A Dave Robicheaux Novel

Avon – Reissue
1990
The book opens with Dave Robicheaux dreaming of his wife’s murder. It wakes him up and he goes for some breakfast at a cafe near his hotel in West Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Without knowing it, he walks right into the beginning of a new nightmare when he runs into his college roommate, Dixie Lee Pugh.

Dave is nearly 50 years old. The author gives him the tired soul of a man who has “been there, done that”, and is happy to rent boats and serve plates of sausages and dirty rice to the fishermen at the end of the day. Dave was once a homicide detective in New Orleans, then a local cop, but something soured his future in that career. The only fire left in his life is the presence of a 6-year-old orphan, Alafair, who lives with him. Even that flame is barely flickering in the shadow of his wife’s absence. Burke makes the grief tangible, in part by having Annie talk to Dave in his dreams, where she discourages him from attempting to join her.

He perseveres, however, living the Southern life at the Southern pace. He takes each day as it comes in all respects, just as he manages to avoid drinking.

The author elicits a lot of information about the way Dave thinks through the development of his relationship with Alafair. The child was herself almost drowned in the incident which killed her parents. The care with which Dave seeks to protect her from further shocks and the way he communicates with her help to give his character great depth. He also injects a bit of color using Dave’s corrections of the grammar and word usage Alafair was absorbing from local speakers of the Cajun dialect!

When Dixie Lee seeks Dave’s aid with some troubles he’s been having since he inadvertently learned about two men being killed while he was on a job in Montana, possibly Indians involved in the spiking of trees in the area to deter logging, Dave seems interested in sheltering himself from shocks, as well. It’s not until Dixie Lee ends up framed-up and in custody with multiple injuries that Dave decides to put in a word for him with the local authorities. In the parking lot at the police station, he crosses paths with Dixie’s framers, Mapes and Vidrine, and gets trapped in their web: Since they think he is involved, they try to keep him in line by threatening Alafair. The pilot light of his affection for the child is fanned into an inferno, and soon Dave finds himself in jail, accused of the murder of Vidrine.

“…I wondered if I had any chance at all of having a normal life again, of being an ordinary person who lived in an ordered town like this and who did not wake up each morning with his fears collectively on his chest like a grinning gargoyle.” (p. 95.)
The author is very adept at capturing moments of dread and anxiety. He created tension well with Robicheaux’s resistance to act until he felt compelled to do so, and his continued internal resistance to becoming involved in his own life for his own sake. There is an overall air of hopelessness in the way Robicheaux approaches his attempts to return his life to the desired level of normalcy.

He knows, based on his experience as a police officer, that life is not like television: “Somebody types your words on a report and you realize that this is all you will get. Investigators will not be out at your house, you will probably not be called to pull somebody out of a lineup, a sympathetic female attorney from the prosecutor’s office will not take a large interest in your life.” (p. 61.)

Knowing he’s on his own, he trudges forward, following the witness against him to Montana where the “connected” people who employ Dixie Lee, as well as Dave’s rogue N.O.P.D. Homicide partner, Cletus, are more interested in buying him than helping him. The locals seem to have little interest in the disappearance of two shiftless Indians from the nearby reservation despite the fact that one was known for his reliability. Finding himself up against brick wall after brick wall in his investigation, Robicheaux’s future seems to grow dimmer and dimmer.

That this earned the Edgar Award is no surprise. The writing flows well, including the dialogue. The characters were well-developed and consistent. While reading, I could feel the weight of what was at stake for the main character as he sought release from the accusations against him.

If you like detective fiction, this is a must-read!

The Edgar Award, named for Edgar Allen Poe, is given annually. For a list of Edgar Award Winners posted by www.mysterywriters.org, see www.mysterywriters.org/awards.html

James Lee Burke also won an award for his 1998 book “Cimarron Rose”.

See also the January Magazine Review of Burke’s book “Heartwood”.

This book is also available at Amazon.co.uk

Other books by this author, or related books if none are available: