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on December 10, 2016
Burke is is kind of mystery-thriller writer who makes the likes of Harlan Coban and Dan Brown look like the absurd hacks they are. Burke's plots are complex and credible (within the confines of the genre, of course, where pistol whippings, murders, etc. are par for the course), his characters rich, his dialogue pitch perfect. I've read all the Robicheaux novels. There's a similarity to the themes (corrupt old money allies with greed and avarice in the form of the mob or other shady characters, like televangelist hucksters) but the plots and characters are complex and well-crafted enough to keep each of them unique. The Billy Bob Holland books of Burke's are also terrific, in fact I prefer them. But this is just what great, popular, suspend-your-disbelief writing is like.
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on August 2, 2013
I am a longtime fan of Burke's work. I've always regarded him as an opaque writer. Most writing classes today advise students to create 'invisible' prose, to make the writing disappear and leave only the idea. Burke, as usual, gloriously violates this trend. His metaphors are his writing. I think Burke writes the way Al Pacino acts--you know he's acting, but you are dazzled by the craft as he chews the scenery. Burke's prose is all about the words, and not so much about the story.

In the case of CREOLE BELLE, the writing has never been darker or more opaque. After the ambiguous ending of GLASS RAINBOW, many fans wondered whether we'd see Dave and Clete in action again. Recovering from multiple injuries, Robicheaux's drug-hazed self-reflections seem occasionally hallucinogenic, and for a while you don't know what is real and what is imagined. As the book progresses, it seems that Dave and Clete feel the same way--not certain whether the storm they've wrought is truly happening.

The real problem is that our characters are older, slower, and less self-assured than they were ten years ago. The Bobbsey Twins from Homicide may be forever, but they are now clearly way past their prime. For most of the book they are like toothless aged lions, roaring but without a lot of bite. Even Clete seems to have lost much of his fury. He's descended into a sort of Eriksonian end-of-life reflection in which he constantly replays his personal failures and sees them as the foundation of his entire life. Dave Robicheaux isn't far behind him, and it seems that every five pages he feels the impulse to recall some turning point in his life that led to his current state.

The story, as always, is secondary to the prose. At times it doesn't even make a lot of sense. The bad guys, as Burke is prone to portray them, aren't the REAL bad guys, but middle-level functionaries who are manipulated by faceless and nameless corporate puppet masters. There is some kind of conspiracy revolving around a BP-style oil platform explosion and resulting spill, but there are also Nazi war criminals in hiding, femmes fatales, and more moral ambiguity that you can eat with a shovel. As in THE GLASS RAINBOW, you get the impression when all is said and done that it was all about nothing consequential, except that the plot served as a vehicle for Burke to weave words the way only he can.

Burke is in his late seventies now, and it isn't surprising that his most representative characters should reflect his own life experience. As he has matured, however, he has also become a little careless and repetitive. It seems that he seizes on specific words and themes in each book, and wears them down to the cords. In a previous book, it was 'riparian'. In CREOLE BELLE, it's 'parameters', which is used by multiple characters to refer to moral boundaries and scruples. Likewise, Burke has chosen, perhaps as a matter of craft, to refer to life events such as the death of Clete's lover in Vietnam repeatedly, almost as some sort of chorus to his narrative. Because of that, some readers may find this book laborious and perhaps a hundred pages too long.

But then you get back to the words. Despite its structural weaknesses, you don't read James Lee Burke for thrill-a-minute plot twists. You read Burke for his masterful manipulation of language, his in-your-face similes and metaphors, and his shrewd insight into personal motivation and the role of tragedy in our lives. As a mystery, CREOLE BELLE is not so great. As poetry and literature, it is the work of a master drawing on all the skills he has built over a lifetime. Reading James Lee Burke's novels is like taking a master class in writing, and every author--published or wannabe--can learn a thing or two from CREOLE BELLE.
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on June 17, 2015
Was hard-pressed to find James Lee Burke anywhere in this book, and, as a long-time fan of him and the Robicheaux series, it saddened me quite a bit. It contains none of the artistry, care, rhythm or depth present in the writing of the rest of the series (although I found Cadillac Jukebox and Purple Cane Road lacking as well, though certainly not to this extent). Dave didn't speak like Dave, Clete didn't speak like Clete, there wasn't any warmth or soul between Dave and Helen; the descriptions (weather, scenery, etc) didn't crackle like they usually do; and even words or mechanisms that Mr. Burke would ordinarily use very sparingly (I/she/he "replied", for instance) were overused to the point of irritation. Creole Belle makes me wonder if Dave and Clete were meant to bow out at the end of Glass Rainbow (which was an incredible book and very hard to put down), whether it was a rush job to meet a publishing deadline, or whether Mr. Burke really had anything to do with its writing at all. In any case, his heart just isn't in this one--here's hoping he comes back.
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on May 25, 2013
This book has been sitting on my shelf for months as I wondered when I would have the time to read it. Last week I pulled it down, hefted it, read the jacket, set it on the table. An hour later I opened it, and all the magic that is Burke filled my head.

I will admit, this would be a tough read if you weren't familiar with all the backstories and the relationships that have been build in about 20 previous Dave Robichaux/Clete Purcell adventures. How do they do it? How do they get up and keep coming back for more, these two septugenarian pincushions.

Creole Belle is a really long book, but it just flies with so much action, so many interesting evil characters. Which of these characters are really evil and which ones are just part of the complex choices of whodunit? The plot is secondary to the action, and the plot is really quite silly. I kept wondering what it was that Dave and Clete were supposed to know that kept the bad guys after them. Some readers chose to be offended by the intensity of the author's political ravings. But the book is not about the evils of big business, big oil raping the environment. That's just part of the stage. I think the book is more about relationships, the dads and the daughters, the recurring characters, the host of indescribably evil people that Dave and Clete inexplicably keep giving second chances to live, which always ends up biting them in the butt. Burke's ability to keep inventing such horrible characters is just amazing. Somehow, well into the 21st century, he has created the worse Nazi war criminal, ever!

(Spoiler) After about 600 pages the book ends when Dave and Clete stop being wishy-washy and decide to kill all the bad guys and set fire to their hideout. They get shot up pretty bad, lose a lot of blood. How do they do it?
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on July 2, 2014
James Lee Burk is a wonderful wonderful writer. I admire the heart and soul he puts into each of his novels. Burke managed the impossible. Each book just gets better and better. I love his style of descriptions of the surroundings and what the characters feel. It adds a convention of depth to his stories which out hem far above the every day mystery crime story. The reader feels like he is observing real life with characters who are like people we might meet in Every day life.
Burke gives us a far better understanding of the characters. The. DUPREES FOR EXAMPLE MAKE your skin crawl. Even when we are led to think that the old man is a Jewish survivor of the holocaust. In each of his Dave robicheaux novels, there is an air of sanctification. Which carries US through all529 pages. We are reading about real life and characters even though they are fiction. It is so satisfying. That I can't wait to read more about cleats Purcell , Dave robicheaux and all the characters including their families.
I would recommend Burke series to anyone who loves a good story told by a great writer. Who wants to get lost in a good book and counts the league and not the pages.
Each Burke novel I read I feel like I am reading something special. And I am.I'm reading a hearty story told by a great American. Writer. all 599
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on August 16, 2012
I'll say up front I am a huge JLB fan. I've read every book and anxiously awaited the next. However, as I started Creole Belle, I found myself wondering if he had turned his writing over to somebody else or was just really jaded! Sure, it still had the Burke decriptive touch that paints a picture like nobody else. But other than that it was choppy, something I could never say about his other books. I did not read the other reviews until after I finished but a few hit the nail on the head. He definitely has an axe to grind over the BP oil spill and its effect on Louisiana. But he dwells on it ad nauseum! And to the detriment of the story. A few of the times I felt it broke the momentum of the story even. As I read I started putting more thought into his rants than on the storyline. There is alot to enjoy in the story but it does not compare, in my opinion, to his other Robicheaux novels.
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VINE VOICEon July 30, 2012
I am the 30th+ reviewer on this book and most of the reviews are so beautifully written I cant even begin to sum it up like some of the other reviewers.

I will say that I am a HUGE James Lee Burke fan and this is one of his best. He writes so beautifully about both past and present you get lost in his prose. His descriptions are so dead on that you feel that you are living either in the bayou, Vietnam or perhaps in the civil war era.

The story is fantastic too. I loved the introductions of two new characters, Clete's daughter (turns out she is just like him) and Clete's new secretary. I would have loved to see more of the secretary after she ... well I dont want to spoil it.

5+ stars. This is definitely the best book I have read all year and to all those naysayers (or as Clete would say 'crepe hangers') who say it was too long, I say I wish it was longer. It was that good.

Totally worth every penny of the price on Kindle.

Thank you Mr. Burke for completely and honestly transforming me to your world for a few days. You truly are a master of your craft.
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on October 12, 2013
There is a price to pay for reading James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels; they reveal negative realities of self and of the society in which we live. Burke's formula is straight-forward including: Dave's ghosts from the past, Clete's multifaceted persona, their exploits and misdeeds in their previous lives and how they come to play in their current battles, the rape of the land by corporations who control America and the inequities in the justice system. There are not many writers today who can weave the fabric of mystery, angst and self-doubt regarding our existence, purpose and beliefs as does Burke. I disagree with Elmore Leonard who stated: if the words do not further the story, leave them out. Burke's description of locality, environment and atmosphere are vivid examples of prose-writing and the beauty of the English language.
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on April 15, 2014
I belieive I have read every book JLB has written, but somewhere I have gotten lost in Dave Robicheaux' s life. Creole Belle opens in New Orleans with Dave in the hospital recovering from wounds received at the "Shootout on the Bayou". However, I cannot locate a book in the series that actually deals with this "shootout". Also, at what point did Dave lose his friend Batist and give up his boat rental business?

I have had the pleasure to visit New Iberia and the adjoining area. First as a young college student working one summer in the oil fields, then much later during my adult career. I find that JLB is very accurate in describing the New Iberia area, both its unusual beauty and its underlying economic and political turmoil. I fondly remember Shadows on the Teche, the enormous live oaks, the sight and smell of flowers blooming everwhere, and the great food, espcially at Victor's. These personal experiences drew me to the Robicheaux novels. JLB is my favorite novelist, although like others i often get distracted by his politics, espeically when he goes off on it in the the middle of a critical crime scene. Also, for a long time I resented having to have a dictionary close by when reading one of JLB's novels, but I now accept that as JLB's method of advancing our vocabulary. He can't get away from being the English professor any more than he can stop writing about his crusade against mistreatment of the less fortunate.
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on November 10, 2012
I have listened to numerous Dave Robicheaux novels on CD while traveling, and read this book on my Kindle. Burke is an amazing writer, one of the best of this generation. His characters, poetic language, and gripping plot lines set him apart from almost any fiction writer in the business today. Southern Louisiana comes to life for the reader in a way that is truly exceptional.

Once again Dave and his former partner, Clete Purcell, find themselves dealing with a mystifying and complicated criminal conspiracy that threatens not only their own lives, but those of their friends and family.

Clete plays a more prominent role in this novel. He learns he has a love child, who turns out to have a bit of her Dad in her and a past that is both tragic and murky. He is absolutely one of the most likable as well as dangerous characters in modern fiction. Clete is the elephant (or gorilla, choose your own metaphor) in every room. Self destructive, gentle and kind, he can still be a wrecking ball at his (and Dave's) advanced age. If you do the math, it seems the duo are now in their sixties, a bit advanced for all the hard living and brutal combat they engage in. They also still suffer from what is commonly called post traumatic stress disorder over experiences in Vietnam, but Burke gives such color to the condition with his descriptions of flashbacks and hallucinations, you feel you are right in the middle of their waking nightmares.

Dave is both cerebral and physical, with an eye for the details of life and a knack for putting the pieces of a crime together. This time however, he and Clete are mystified at the extent and nature of the evil they are facing. The plot comes together just a little at a time, but the whole picture does not emerge until the very end.

Dave and Clete are the guys a lot of men want to be; they take on evil head on and full bore, and don't bother with the niceties of modern jurisprudence in many cases. Individually, they are formidable. As a team, they are almost unstoppable, here overcoming odds that would make Rambo pause. They both seem to see death coming at them, in visions of a spectral paddle wheeler on the bayou, or in a skeletal streetcar conductor who may or may not be real.

The book ends with an action sequence equal to any Burke has written. The postlude is remarkable. Burke is a master of weaving together complicated plot lines, social commentary, poetic descriptions, and graphic violence. His Southern sensibilities, working man's viewpoint, and thoughtful writing are both engaging and entertaining.

If you like crime novels with flawed good guys, you would be hard pressed to find a better one. If you enjoy reading the work of a true craftsman with a preternatural lyrical flair, you will not be disappointed. There are some pretty good fiction writers out there. I happen to think Burke is the best.
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