Friday, September 1, 2017

Book Review: 'Creole Belle' by James Lee Burke

"Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -- Romans 12:21 (NKJV)

In Creole Belle, James Lee Burke ups the literary qualities of his prose to new levels of poetic imagery. He also does a remarkable job of portraying the problems of perception and memory in ways that resonate more powerfully than any scientific description you'll ever read. I was impressed with the effective way that Clete Purcel seems to have been encompassed by Dave Robicheaux's visions, adding a more romantic aspect to this story.

That said, the outlines of the story will seem very familiar to those who are long-time fans of the series. It's good versus evil once again with a vengeance. Although I don't mind the same story being retold with new garments, in this case there's a reaching out to the evils of Europe that comes across as quite a stretch for a story that's obviously based in the recent past. It felt like such overreaching to me that the story's magic spell was dimmed for me.

So what's the story about on the surface level? Dave is recovering from being shot in The Glass Rainbow. A generous dose of painkillers is affecting his perceptions. When Tee Jolie Melton seems to visit, he's not sure. Because she's missing, everyone else doubts Dave's memory. He's not so sure. As usual, the search goes against the grain for everyone else, but Dave proceeds regardless ... turning up some very curious events and some highly untrustworthy people. Burke takes his time honing in on the evil, beautifully building characters and conundrums in the process. It's like sitting down with someone form southern Louisiana who wants to tell you a story about the old days in the French Quarter. It's going to take awhile, but you probably won't mind. It's quite an experience to listen to such a beautifully told tale.

To me the highlight of the book is the introduction of a complex and highly original character that is connected to Clete's part of the plot. I won't say more ... lest I spoil the story.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Donald Mitchell. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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