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Purple Cane Road    by James Lee Burke order for
Purple Cane Road
by James Lee Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Doubleday, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This continues Burke's South Louisiana saga about lawman Dave Robicheaux. He has conquered the worst of his personal demons of violence and alcoholism and settled in New Iberia with his wife Bootsie and adopted daughter Alafair. Dave now operates a boat-rental and bait business and works as a homicide investigator for the sherriff's office.

But ghosts from the past come back to haunt him. During his drinking period, Dave failed to protect two little girls, Letty and Passion Labiche from being systematically sexually abused by the state executioner Vachel Carmouche. Now an adult, Letty has been convicted of Carmouche's murder and her appeal process is running out. Robicheaux's guilt impels him to attempt to stop her execution.

Dave's father was 'an enormous, black-haired, illiterate Cajun whose saloon brawls were not only a terrifying experience for his adversaries but beautiful to watch.' His mother, Mae Guillory, who loved to dress up and to dance, left with different men in search of a better world. She never found it and broke her promise to return to her son Davy, who loved her and felt deserted. A pimp tells Dave that his mother was a whore murdered by corrupt cops working for the Giacano crime family.

These two sad stories drive Burke's novel and leave trails that lead Robicheaux and his best friend P.I. Clete Purcel to corruption in high places, starting with Jim Gable, city hall liaison for the New Orleans Police Department. There are many threads connecting the stories and all kinds of colorful and complex characters painted in varying shades of grey.

Robicheaux himself still contends with the violence inherited from his father and strengthened by his stint in Vietnam. His loyal friend Clete is even more flawed. Governor Belmont Pugh makes unpalatable compromises, and the brilliant but psychopathic hit man Johnny Remeta is consistently polite and pays his debts. He moves closer to Alafair who is herself in the throes of a phase of teenage assertiveness and rebellion.

Burke gives us a complex and fascinating story about a flawed hero's roots, set deep in the Louisiana bayou. He makes us think about the validity of the justice system, its rulings and its targets. The endings that he provides to both the tales of the Labiches and of Mae Robicheaux are unusual and very satisfying.

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