Crusader's Cross

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

James Lee Burke opens the action of Crusader's Cross in 1958, when the lives of a young Dave Robicheaux and his twin brother Jimmie were saved by prostitute Ida Durbin. Jimmy fell in love with Ida and they planned to elope, but she mysteriously disappeared, and evidence suggested that she had been murdered. Flash forward to the present, when clues that Ida might still be alive begin to surface, and Dave and Jimmie reunite to search for her, hindered along the way by a powerful local family, a series of killings that brings Robicheaux out of retirement and back to the police force, and a romance that further complicates the detective's life.

The Robicheaux series has always been marked by Burke's lyrical, haunting prose and by the violence, beauty, and Southern gothic trappings of his surroundings. This book plumbs even darker depths. The bright spots from earlier novels—his dead third wife Bootsie, his now grown adopted daughter Alafair, his enduring friendship with his aged African American business partner Batiste—are missing here. The staples who remain—self-destructive, disgraced ex-cop and partner Clete Purcell and abrasive sheriff Helen Soileau—demonstrate character flaws that mirror the darker parts of Robicheaux's own personality. And when AA-devotee Robicheaux briefly falls off the wagon, he reaches an unprecedented low point.

And yet the book is ultimately suffused with the moral toughness of battered characters who maintain their integrity even as they battle their flaws and find solace in each other. Robicheaux finds new love in ex-nun Molly Boyle, and their sudden union brings brighter shades to the otherwise grim palette of this novel.

Burke's characteristic strengths—pitch perfect dialogue, deft sketches of human depravity and goodness, evocative renderings of the Gulf coast's natural lushness, and circuitous, addictive plots—are here in abundance.

Crusader's Cross merits an honored spot in the already acclaimed Robicheaux series.