"Illusion is sometimes the only element that keeps us sane, and you don't rob others of it when they need it most."
Jul 10, 2008
Clete Purcel is most noticeable in his porkpie hat, driving a restored maroon Caddy convertible. In Montana fishing with Dave Robicheaux and his wife Molly, Hurricane Katrina and New Iberia parish far behind but hardly forgotten, Purcel is only in search of good fishing when beset by two men in a pickup who inform him he is trespassing on private property. Returning to Robicheaux's cabin on Albert Hollister's place, Clete reports the incident to Dave, the same men arriving soon after to further intimidate Purcel. It seems in the northern Rockies of Montana, "the last good place", trouble has followed the New Orleans' buddies: "The war was never between the classes, it was between the have-nots and the have-nots." It is this wise premise that suggests the theme of the novel, a morality tale where rich landowner Ridley Wellstone observes the struggles of his minions and the visitors from Louisiana from an invincible distance. A hardscrabble man of the people, Robicheaux well knows this playing field, doing his best to protect Purcel from his own self-destruction and doing half the job well.
The novel is brimming with unpredictable characters, from ex-cons to an irresistible country-singer wife of a damaged man, the mysterious death of a hated gangster, an eccentric, idealistic old man, false preachers, sadistic prison employees, innocent college students slaughtered in a murder spree, a good-intentioned, hard-worn woman and an obscenely rich man with a hidden agenda. Mixing and matching all with acuity, Burke runs a number of plot lines tangled in a Gordian knot that Robicheaux and Purcel hope to untangle before irrevocable harm occurs, Purcel rushing headlong into his own demons with each violent engagement. Burke writes with a vengeance, his characters crusty and jaded, a wild breed that refuses to surrender to a new century, including Dave and Clete. Truisms flow like an unleashed dam, the author intimate with his venue, from war-scarred Vietnam vets to burned-out loners, religion and music the only panacea to an indifferent world. Robicheaux keeps his perspective simple, if profound, this fishing vacation as morally complicated as the rest of his life and as directly encountered.
Sometimes the bad guys win, but Robicheaux and Purcel do the time, two broken down heroes with an eye on redemption for past sins. Exploring every degradation known to man, Burke never shirks from harsh realities, his stories peopled by flawed protagonists, malcontents, criminals and the odd individual who refuses to bend before the boot of a bully. It is this talent for vivid description and the haunting events that fill the novel with acts both good and heinous, men exposed in their depravity and their glory, often raised from the ashes of their own hubris. Monsters are Burke's stock in trade and Robicheaux has known his share, Clete equally tormented by memories that revisit in nightmares. There is always another story, another clash where evil masquerades as good, foul deeds done in the dark of night. Sometimes resolution is finite: "The faces of the actors may change, but the story is ongoing and neither religion nor government has ever rid the world of sin or snake oil." Luan Gaines/ 2008.
"Swan Peak" shows James Lee Burke's rich character portrayals, detailed descriptions of the natural surroundings of western Montana and demonstrates his ability to tell a suspenseful story. Dave Robicheaux, wife Molly, and best friend, Clete, are on vacation in Montana after experiencing the devastation of hurricanes Rita and Katrina in New Orleans. When a pair of double murders occur and the local sheriff seems overwhelmed, … more
For those of us who write stories and are occasionally published, we are constantly told to never open a fiction piece with either a dream or the weather. The reasoning being, according to agents and writing experts, that such an opening is either clichéd or weak and makes the submission worthy of the instant rejection. That and the stigma of having ignored the current expectations of the publishing coasts and by doing so, showing that the writer is oblivious to doing things correctly. Ironic then, … more
"Swan Peak" is the seventeenth book in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series and, by now, longtime fans of the series probably know Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcell better than they know their own real life first cousins (and might even enjoy their company more). What makes "Swan Peak" different from other Robicheaux novels, though, is that it is the first book in the series to be set entirely someplace other than in south Louisiana, home base for Robicheaux and his sidekick. But even in Montana, … more
I am a fan of James Lee Burke and look forward to every Dave Robicheaux novel. Mind you, it isn't a bad read - it simply does not compare well with his other work. Not a big deal really since every author occasionally doesn't quite hit the mark. "Swan Peak" is weighed down with too many nefarious, if not nebulous, characters chasaing too many plots, sub-plots and backstories. In my opinion, the story would have been improved by slimming it down. Robicheaux … more
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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