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Swan Peak: A Dave Robicheaux Novel    by James Lee Burke order for
Swan Peak
by James Lee Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Swan Peak, James Lee Burke takes lifelong friends Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel back to western Montana - also the setting for the author's mysteries starring former Texas Ranger Billy Bob Holland - where, many years before in Black Cherry Blues, they disposed of Clete's evil mobster boss Sally Dio.

Clete, Dave and Dave's wife Molly have come, at the invitation of their eccentric friend Albert Hollister, to spend the summer fishing. Unfortunately, Sally Dio's old - and very cold - case has followed the duo to Montana in the form of an FBI team led by Vietnamese-American Alicia Rosecrans. Clete and Dave are also pulled into the investigation of the murder of a coed and her boyfriend in the area, until Clete's methods - and his well earned 'reputation for chaos and mayhem' - cause the local sheriff to pull them off the case (and wish them off the planet). As Dave muses, 'Clete had demons not even an exorcist would take on.'

Other key players include oil tycoon/ranch owner Ridley Wellstone; his brother Leslie, disfigured in a tank explosion in the French Sudan; Leslie's wife, sexy gospel singer Jamie Sue Wellstone; escaped convict/singer Jimmie Dale Greenwood (jailed for stabbing a pimp who happened to be a judge's nephew) who loves Jamie Sue; prison guard Troyce Nix who brutalized Jimmie Dale and is haunted by his own past demons; and Troyce's new girlfriend Candace Sweeney, whose background might be white trash but whose heart is pure gold. Throw in assorted 'hired cretins' and corrupt Wellstone Ministries Reverend Sonny Click and the cast is complete.

All these tortured people converge in a series of violent encounters in which both Clete and Dave come very close to meeting their ends and some characters descend deeper and deeper into darkness, while others win redemption from their past sins. As Robicheaux reflects at the end, 'the real gladiators of the world are so humble in their origins and unremarkable in appearance that when we stand next to them in a grocery-store line, we never guess how brightly their souls can burn in the dark.'

Though Swan Peak does not have quite the same urgency and depth of feeling as Burke's previous Tin Roof Blowdown (set in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in its aftermath) it's still a fine read, both as an intricate mystery and for the aging Robicheaux's philosophical take on life, death and everything in between. Dave tells us that 'There are occasions in this world when you're allowed to step inside a sonnet, when clocks stop, and you don't worry about time's winged chariot and hands that beckon to you from the shadows.' I wish many more such moments to both Dave Robicheaux and his creator.

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