Read June 2017 Recommended for fans of Louisiana Bayou ★ ★ ★
Pairing Will Patton and James Lee Burke’s Cajun protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, was genius. Patton grew up on South Carolina and went to a school for the arts in North Carolina, so he comes by his accents both through upbringing and avocation. The Dave Robicheaux series calls New Iberia, Louisiana, home base, with excursions to other parishes as well as New Orleans. Burke has a touch of Hemingway about him, and his books frequently detour to provide intimate descriptions of the local people and landscape.
I’m still learning to appreciate audio books. Kobna Holdbrook Smith and the Peter Grant series are one of the few that can reliably keep my attention. However, as I’m commuting a little farther these days, I’m giving audio another go. One of the challenges I’ve discovered is that for me, audio versions give equal weight to the entire story. Every chapter evolves at the same speed, as does the entire book. My physical reads pace very differently; the beginning is slow and thorough, but if it’s a great story, I read faster and faster as the tension rises. Dull books get similar treatment–I also get faster, but mostly because I’ve switched to skimming. So one of the aspects of audio for me is that I end up paying far closer attention than I might when reading physical books.
Experiencing the story by audio read made weaknesses in Burke’s storytelling apparent. Primarily, though billed as a ‘mystery’/’detective fiction,’ this barely qualifies. Ostensibly, there are two mysteries, that of a young woman who disappeared soon after meeting Dave and his half-brother, Jimmy, a couple decades ago, and that of a serial killer who seems to be targeting suburban housewives. Dave gets involved in the hunt for the killer by going back to the Iberia sheriff’s department and asking his boss, Helen, for his job as a detective back. They certainly do things different in the south, because this seems perfectly acceptable to all involved and he’s soon assigned to the multi-jurisdiction investigation.
Meanwhile, some incident that happened early on gets Dave rethinking about Ida Rubin. Mostly, it’s a lovely opportunity for Burke to indulge in some memories of when Dave and his brother were working oil rigs pre-college, spending time and money hanging on the coast between jobs. It becomes apparent to both of them that Ida is working as a prostitute, although it turns out, an unwilling one. However, just as she and Jimmy are about to head to Mexico, she disappears.
Yet despite the terrors and horrors happening to these women, long swathes of the book are devoted to Dave’s personal problems. A reporter and, more importantly, brother of a woman who seems to be interested in Dave, come to blows. An incident where Dave gets blackout level drunk becomes the basis for a weak plot point. Given it is book 14 in the series, I had been hoping we’d be past the alcoholic demons of the first few books. Dave makes another impetuous decision that changes his life.
In other words, what I discovered as I listened to Patton’s melodic descriptions, is that I don’t like Dave very much. He’s a dry drunk, about as illogical a detective as I’ve ever seen, and prone to making accusations and getting in fights because of his ‘gut’ feeling. He makes decisions that result in physical violence, and put him in a corner where it’s him against the world, and conveniently, a perfect excuse for either drinking or condescending judgement of others. In this book, he’s particularly hard on women, and the visits to the murder scenes seemed a more about violence-porn than moments of compassion or empathy.
I also have to note–because this is flat-out weird–that there are about four instances of Dave using the word ‘phallus,’ describing a guy in a swimsuit and another guy at the urinal. I’ll be perfectly content to never run into the word again in a mystery novel. I’m honestly not sure what was going on there.
In regards to plotting, I’d have to say this was fairly weak, and couldn’t recommend it to people who are more focused on the mystery-detective plotting. The narrative left Dave a couple of times for viewpoints of two other characters, which was a little confusing. I couldn’t tell if this was Dave speaking ‘as told to me by __,’ or if it was an actual narrative switch.
All of that said, I enjoyed Burke’s descriptions of Louisiana and its people, and Patton’s ability to capture the richness and cadences was lovely. Patton’s voicing of the characters was varied and entertaining; I was surprised by his voice for the impetuous Clete Purcell, but I found I rather enjoyed it. Result? I’ll listen to another of Burke’s books as read by Patton. But I sincerely hope there’s not as much phallus in it.