Jolie Blon's Bounce: A Dave Robicheaux Novel
|Author:||James Lee Burke|
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
When a beautiful teenage girl is killed, the victim of a particularly savage rape, New Iberia, Louisiana, police detective Dave Robicheaux senses from the very start of the investigation that the most likely suspect, Tee Bobby Hulin, is not the actual killer. Though a drug addict and general ne’er-do-well, Hulin just doesn’t fit the profile for this kind of brutal crime.
But when another murder occurs—this victim a drugged-out prostitute who happens to be the daughter of one of the local mafia bigwigs—all clues once again point to Tee Bobby Hulin, and the cries for arrest become too loud to ignore. The dead girl’s father, however, prefers to take matters in his own hands and sets out to find—and punish—the killer himself.
But before Robicheaux can solve these crimes and bring the killer or killers to justice, he is forced to battle his own inner demons, including a painkiller addiction, a habit that begins as the result of a brutal and humiliating beating he suffers at the hands of the mysterious and diabolical character known as Legion. A fixture in the area for years, Legion was once the overseer on a local sugarcane plantation and now gets by doing odd jobs. In temperament, however, he’s still the malicious and malevolent bully he always was, a man defined by evil and seemingly possessed with supernatural skills of survival.
Added to the mix, and on the good guy side of the balance sheet, is Clete Purcel, a longtime buddy of Robicheaux’s and a confirmed boozer and womanizer. Clete comes to New Iberia for a visit and is quickly drawn into the struggle between the various forces of evil in the town, including Jimmy Dean Styles, a black man intent on maintaining his empire of corruption; Joe Zeroski, a trailer park mafioso with palatial aspirations—and of course, Legion Guidry, the devil incarnate, in whom Robicheaux finds himself facing a challenge and an enemy unlike any he has ever known. And soon, what began as a duel of wits has turned into a dance of death.
Dave Robicheaux, the Louisiana cop who’s easily one of the most complex and compelling protagonists in mystery fiction, confronts his own demons as well as a brutal adversary who might be the devil himself in this dark thriller. This is classic James Lee Burke, the master stylist, writing at the top of his game:
”I wanted to drive deep into the Atchafalaya Swamp, past the confines of reason, into the past…on the tree-flooded alluvial rim of the world, where the tides and the course of the sun were the only measures of time (and) all you had to do was release yourself from the prison of restraint, just snip loose the stitches that sewed your skin to the hairshirt of normalcy.”
The plot hinges on a pair of murders that don’t seem to be connected—a mobbed-up prostitute and a pretty young teenage girl—and the Cajun blues singer accused of both crimes. Robicheaux believes that Tee Bobby Hulin, the gifted musician whose original composition provides the title for this brilliantly realized Gothic crime novel, is innocent. Proving it puts him in the sights of a vicious old overseer named Legion, whose almost supernatural powers nearly drown Robicheaux in the swamp of his own addictions. The narrative proceeds slowly, but Burke’s dedicated fans won’t begrudge him one beautifully turned phrase, gloriously limned description, or insightful characterization: they just don’t get any better than this one. —Jane Adams
Barnes and Noble
James Lee Burke’s fiction is haunted, sometimes quite literally, by the ghosts of history, and by a bone-deep apprehension of the human capacity for violence and cruelty. A case in point is the author’s latest Dave Robicheaux novel, Jolie Blon’s Bounce, a contemporary account of murder and madness whose plot reflects the lingering aftereffects of the antebellum South.
The story begins with the shotgun murder of 16-year-old Amanda Boudreau and the subsequent arrest of Tee Bobby Hulin, a musically gifted young black man with a spiraling drug habit and a checkered criminal past. This initial murder is quickly followed by a second, the bludgeoning death of a prostitute with ties to the world of organized crime. The dual investigation that ensues leads Robicheaux—together with his current partner, Helen Soileau, and his former partner in the New Orleans PD, Clete Purcell—into the complex, interrelated histories of several New Iberia families, some rich, white, and powerful, some poor, black, and chronically underprivileged. The investigation puts Robicheaux in touch with the most vicious elements of Louisiana society, and with the darkest aspects of his own divided soul.
Like most of Burke’s fiction, Jolie Blon’s Bounce is a rambling, loosely plotted affair notable for its powerful set pieces, its precise, sensual evocation of the Louisiana bayou country, and its flamboyant sense of character. Among the novel’s most vivid creations are a sexually voracious defense attorney descended from a wealthy slaveholding family, a traveling Bible salesman with a penchant for violence, a former Mafia hit man with a tragic personal history, and a predatory, not-quite-human killer who goes by the name of Legion. Legion, a deliberate, over-the-top embodiment of absolute evil, is one of Burke’s most remarkable creations. His presence, together with the corollary presence of a mad, possibly angelic figure known as Sal Angelo, lends this novel the faint, unmistakable aura of the supernatural that has characterized so much of Burke’s recent fiction.
As always, though, it is Dave Robicheaux himself—a decent, violent, angry, loving, and deeply conflicted man—who dominates the narrative. Robicheaux’s distinctive character and his voice—with its mournful power, its clean, rolling cadences, and its frequent flights of unforced poetry—elevate this novel at every turn. Like the best of its predecessors (The Neon Rain, A Morning for Flamingos, Purple Cane Road), Jolie Blon’s Bounce is bruising, moving, and beautifully composed—an example of American crime fiction at its best and most highly evolved. (Bill Sheehan)