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Purple Cane Road: A Novel (Dave Robicheaux Mysteries) Hardcover – August 1, 2000

4.5 out of 5 stars 241 customer reviews
Book 11 of 20 in the Robicheaux Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In New Iberia, Louisiana, memories are long and dangerous, and the past and present are seldom easy to untangle. Homicide investigator Dave Robicheaux is trying to help Letty Labiche, a New Iberia girl on death row for killing the man who molested her and her sister as children, when chance brings him to Zipper Clum, a pimp and pornographer who recognizes Robicheaux secondhand through a 30-year haze:
"Robicheaux, your mama's name was Mae.... Wait, it was Guillory before she married. That was the name she went by ... Mae Guillory. But she was your mama," he said.

"What?" I said.

He wet his lips uncertainly.

"She dealt cards and still hooked a little bit. Behind a club in Lafourche Parish. This was maybe 1966 or '67," he said.

Clete's eyes were fixed on my face. "You're in a dangerous area, sperm breath," he said to Zipper.

"They held her down in a mud puddle. They drowned her," Zipper said.

To Robicheaux, whose memories of the fun-loving Mae are few and bittersweet, the news comes like a bolt of lightning. Though she abandoned him to the uncertain mercies of a violent, alcoholic father, he loved her, and his desire to find her killers--cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family, according to Clum--is instantaneous and deeply felt. Unfortunately, Zipper Clum meets the wrong end of a .25 automatic soon after his electrifying announcement, but his conversation with his killer is recorded--and Mae Guillory's name comes up again.

The winding trail of evidence connected to both Letty Labiche and Mae Guillory leads Robicheaux almost immediately to Jim Gable, the New Orleans Police Department's liaison with city hall, whose position has afforded him a number of less-than-legal advantages. Gable also happens to be an ex-lover of Robicheaux's wife, Bootsie--formerly the widow of Ralph Giacano. From there the web of connections grows ever wider, and (not surprisingly) incriminates those in high places. These include the state attorney general, a woman who, if photographic evidence is to be trusted, was once friendly with the Labiches' parents, who were known procurers.

But if Purple Cane Road has its share of corrupt powermongers, it's also filled with beautifully rounded characters, like piano-playing governor Belmont Pugh and hit man Johnny Remeta, whose personality slowly begins to unravel as he gets closer to Robicheaux's daughter. The plot converges seamlessly to its climax--the true story of what happened to Mae Robicheaux--as James Lee Burke's trademark of uncompromising justice is brought to fruition. Like Burke's other Robicheaux novels, Purple Cane Road offers a solidly satisfying piece in the picture of a complex hero. --Barrie Trinkle

From Publishers Weekly

HAfter the relatively lightweight Sunset Limited (1998), Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux returns in a powerhouse of a thriller that shows Burke writing near the peak of his form. Robicheaux faces his most personal case yet, when a pimp puts him on the trail of the truth behind his mother's long-ago disappearance. Meanwhile, he uncovers new evidence in the case of death-row inmate Letty Labiche, who took a mattock to the man who molested her as a child, state executioner Vachel Carmouche. Burke parades the usual cast of grotesques: feckless Louisiana governor Belmont Pugh; cold-blooded attorney general Connie Deshotel; sleazy police liaison officer Jim Gable, who "keeps the head of a Vietnamese soldier in a jar of chemicals"; and psychopathic hit man Johnny Remata, who acts as all-around avenging angel. Wife Bootsie's having had a fling with Gable drives Robicheaux into a jealous fury more than once, while daughter Alafair's flirtation with Johnny raises the temperature even higher. Old buddy Clete Purcell doesn't have a lot to do, other than to contribute to the general mayhem. Once Robicheaux learns that his mother fell afoul of a couple of New Orleans cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family, it's a simple matter of identifying the guilty pair and bringing them to justiceDor is it? Burke winds up an often convoluted and gratuitously violent plot with a dynamite ending that will leave readers feeling truly satisfied, if a bit shell-shocked. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Series: Dave Robicheaux Mysteries
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (August 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385488440
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385488440
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (241 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, is the author of twenty-three previous novels, including such New York Times bestsellers as Bitterroot, Purple Cane Road, Cimarron Rose, Jolie Blon's Bounce, and Dixie City Jam. He lives in Missoula, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A few years ago, i was lucky enough to stumble upon a book reading by some guy named James Lee Burke. He read the first chapter of a Cajun Detective thriller and i was hooked. we (the audience) begged him to read two more chapters.
the beauty of Burke's writing is the carefully crafted gorgeous run on sentences (amazing in their delicacy of word choices) contrasted with the violence that spurts from his finely developed characters.
Purple Cane Road is the 17th (?) of his novels and almost perfect. (More on "almost" in a second). He brings to bear familiar characters (Bootsie, Batist, Alafair, Cletus Purcell, the Sherriff), but ties it to a core value of Burke's: family. Robicheaux, in the course of a typically brutal "investigation" by Clete, his best friend, hears that his mother was murdered by detectives from the New Orleans Police Department and that she was a hooker. While Robicheaux realizes that his mother was not a queen, he is shaken. A whore? Murdered? Murdered by the NOPD?
Luckily Robicheaux is still on the wagon or we would see him swirl into drink, despair... His AA outlook saves him.
Okay, I was disappointed in the lack of exploration of some of the characters. They are introduced but not fully explored -- if I had not read previous Robicheaux novels, they would have seemed hurried in their introduction.
On a scale of 1 to 10, the styling of the book gets a 9.5 -- the prose, the evocation of the scenes, the way i could practically smell the sea air/salt...
On a scale of 1 to 10, the action is a 10. Brutal, but realistic.
One item surprised me: Dave rarely talks about the daily life of being a police officer.
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Format: Hardcover
Well, what a ride! PURPLE CANE ROAD is probably James Lee Burke's best Dave Robicheaux novel yet. That statement comes without qualification because I have thoroughly enjoyed all of the books in this series.
All the characters you have come to look forward to reading about are back again. There's Dave, Clete Purcell, Bootsie, Helen Soileau, Alafair and Batist. Even Tripod, Alafair's three legged pet racoon is still in the cast.
What Burke does exceptionally well with this novel is introduce more interesting characters to the mix. The story also deals with obsession(s) as Dave tries to clear a woman on Death Row while finding out who killed his mother more than 30 years before.
The violence that punctuates all of the novels in this series is also present here as well. Most noticeably, Clete Purcell, Dave's loyal former partner and always best-friend, seems to find more than his fair share of it. His excessive drinking and intemperate remarks and lifestyle continue in PURPLE CANE ROAD and it is during the moments when we read of these events that JLB interjects much of his pathos and humor. Clete is an extremely violent man, but it is also good to know that he is primarily on the side of right. God help the people of Louisiana if he were ever to cross over to the criminal side of the spectrum.
Dave Robicheaux is obssessed by the need to find out who killed his mother Mae in 1967. Readers of this series will remember that Dave's mother abandoned him for a bouree dealer when she left while Dave was still a small boy. As a grown man and a police officer, Dave struggles to do right by her memory by re-opening the unsolved 30 year old case. Along the way, he runs into the string of sociopaths that Burke is so fond of populating this series with.
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1 Comment 35 of 36 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
Homicide detective, Dave Robicheaux, and his side-kick, private investigator, Clete Purcel are looking for Zipper Clum, a pimp who may have information to spare the life of death-row inmate, Letty Labiche. Upon finding him, Zipper makes a shocking accusation, one that will chill Robicheaux to the core.
Dave's mother was a "whore", who was killed in the sixties, and according to Zipper, she was killed by police officers.
Dave begins his own investigation into his mother's death, while still trying to find evidence that can spare Letty's life, but with witnesses on BOTH cases being killed, he realizes these two cases may be impossible, and at the same time he must go head to head with a killer who will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
This is the best entry yet, in the masterful Dave Robicheaux series. "Purple Cane Road" is well-written, and suspenseful throughout, it is peopled with colorful, and exciting characters, and maintains a sense of realism until the end.
James Lee Burke writes the kind of novels readers can get lost in, every sentence flows, while the plot boils to it's stunning conclusion.
A MUST read!
Nick Gonnella
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By A Customer on August 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Iberia Parish homicide detective Dave Robicheaux, accompanied by private sleuth Clete Purcel, seeks a New Orleans pimp Zipper Chum on a capital case. When the duo catches up with Zipper in Baton Rouge, he tosses a verbal hand grenade at Dave involving the police officer's missing mother. Zipper accuses cops on the take from the Giacanos mob of killing Mae Guillory (her maiden name), a whore, in the sixties.

Obsessed about what Zipper claims happened to his mother, Dave begins making inquiries into learning the truth, even at the cost of ignoring his family. Along the way, Dave begins to uncover new evidence on his "other" case that might free death row murderer Letty Labiche. However, as he makes progress on both cases, someone systemically kills his witnesses, making his mother's investigation impossible and probably leaving Labiche for the electric chair. The psychopath jump starts Dave into action when he targets the cop's daughter as one of his victims.

PURPLE CANE ROAD is the best Robicheaux tale to date and that is saying a lot since author James Lee Burke has two Edgars to his credit. The story line is crisp and exciting as expected from the novels in this series. However, this time the plot turns personal which allows the audience to see much of the inner sanctum of Dave's soul. One of the great, perhaps the greatest mystery writer of the past decade, Mr. Burke scores on all cylinders with this taut thriller.

Harriet Klausner
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