Review: Last Car To Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is arguably one of America’s greatest hardboiled detective authors, and Last Car to Elysian Fields not only does that reputation justice, it strengthens his position as a crime writer with an immense literary range that borders on the poetic.

Detective Dave Robicheaux is asked by Father Jimmie Dolan to join him on a trip into St. James Parish, where he meets the daughter of a musician who disappeared years before. Soon strange links begin to emerge between the musician, a savage attack on Father Jimmie Dolan, a fanatical and conflicted assassin, and the filthily rich whom Dave despises. The detective is drawn into the familiar collection of sordid secrets and escalating violence, as echoes of his own unresolved past begin to affect the direction of his case.

Burke is a masterful storyteller, who weaves an intricate web that hums with tension along its cords. What I appreciate most about his novels is that he doesn’t rely on tedious red herrings and cheap last-minute revelations to keep the thrill going; instead, he provides us with so much information about the people and circumstances that Dave encounters that we must distil the answers at the same pace as Dave Robicheaux. In other words, Burke allows us to be detectives in his novels, not passive viewers waiting for the next corny surprise. This plot line is as solid as his detective, and his Louisiana is as vivid and infectious as feverish dreams. His style remains wonderfully articulate and timeless, and one can only say the Robicheaux series is like a loyal old dog: it’ll never let you down.

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