James Lee Burke’s ninth novel featuring Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux is haunting. In Burke’s series, the hard-driving suspense is balanced by lyric descriptions of Louisiana landscape; the characters who emerge from the brush and bayou are as appropriate to their place as are Thomas Hardy’s characters. The result is a mythic portrait of Louisiana with a cumulative richness that makes the series extremely addictive.
CADILLAC JUKEBOX takes as its opening premise the arrest of a former Klan member, a violent, antisocial loner, for the twenty-eight-year-old murder of a civil rights leader. Aaron Crown claims innocence. Robicheaux’s sense of justice drags him unwillingly into the investigation, where he encounters a number of dangers on the way to the surprising truth—and as usual, some of the worst hazards are within himself.
CADILLAC JUKEBOX has a high body count, but the violence quotient is justified by the magnitude of the forces in conflict. The novel provides a theory of politics and power reminiscent of Robert Penn Warren’s portrayal of the same culture some years earlier in ALL THE KING’S MEN (1946). As in the Warren novel, the moral implications of power and greed are explored, as are the moral ambiguities in all relationships based on the existing imbalance of power.
In this novel, the villains are not cardboard cutouts, and the heroes are not without flaw. Poetic justice does not reign supreme at the end. This novel provides the satisfaction of the detective story without demanding total suspension of disbelief. CADILLAC JUKEBOX provides a Faulkner-like rich symbolic landscape while providing an electric story line that keeps the reader turning pages. The only frustrating element of this fascinating novel and, indeed, of the series: Readers want to know what happens next, and yet they want to linger on every line.