Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Swan Peak

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, Robicheaux and Purcell, being who they are, manage to attract the attention of the same kind of people who have caused them so much grief in New Orleans and New Iberia for several decades.

Being one of the good guys (and these two, despite their numerous flaws, are definitely two of the good guys), even while on summer vacation, is not always easy. It is especially not easy for Clete Purcell who cannot control his mouth when he is hassled by two thuggish security guards for inadvertently camping overnight on private property. And it is not easy for Dave Robicheaux for one simple reason: he is Purcell’s best friend, and nothing about being Purcell’s friend is easy. Dave, his wife, Molly, and Clete may have come to Montana for a little R&R and lots of fishing, but very little fishing, and even less R&R, is what they get.

When a pair of college students is brutally murdered on a hill that overlooks the property they are staying on, Dave and Clete find themselves slowly sucked into the crime’s investigation, an investigation that soon threatens to blow up in their faces when every rock they overturn unmasks yet another lowlife pervert willing to do whatever it takes to remain under the radar of local cops and the FBI.

A James Lee Burke novel is one to be savored and, unlike most novels of its type, Burke’s books do not make for quick reading. Swan Peak, containing several subplots and numerous characters that sometimes cross from one plotline to another, is no exception, demanding to be read with a certain degree of attention if its full impact is to be felt.

Along the way, we meet both a Texas prison guard searching for the escaped prisoner who almost stabbed him to death and that prisoner, a talented country singer and picker who has come to Montana to find the woman he still loves, herself at one time a successful hillbilly singer. But before he can find the man he so badly wants to hurt, the guard finds Candace, a waitress who sees good in him that he does not even see in himself. There are the Wellstone brothers, unscrupulous oil operators from Houston, one of them terribly disfigured by burns but married to the very woman for whom the escaped prisoner is searching. And then there are characters like the sexual predator and tent preacher, Sonny Click, and the insane serial killer who delights in killing in the most painful ways imaginable – lots of characters, lots of subplots, all masterfully tied together by the end of the book into yet another powerful chapter in the lives of Dave Robicheaux and Cletus Purcell.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. I haven't read any of James Lee Burke's Robicheaux books in quite a while. Time to get caught up.

  2. Jenclair, the new Robicheaux novel has been one of the highlights of my reading year for many years now. I can't believe we're up to 17 in the series now and I'm still excited about them.