Dixie City Jam

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

James Lee Burke’s thirteenth novel is the eighth in his series centering on Dave Robicheaux, once a New Orleans homicide policeman, now a deputy in the Iberia Parish sheriff’s office. He also owns and runs a combination boat-rental/bait-shop/lunchroom on a bayou near the Gulf of Mexico. The plot is set in motion when Robicheaux, diving offshore for a Jewish pharmacist and politician, locates the hull of a Nazi submarine sunk during World War II.

Others, including Irish and Italian mobsters in New Orleans, also show an interest in what Robicheaux has discovered, but his most dangerous antagonist is Will Buchalter, a sadistic neo-Nazi who, with his sister Marie, invades Robicheaux’s life. Buchalter assaults Robicheaux’s wife Bootsie, shows that he can apparently appear in Robicheaux’s house without warning at any time, and is responsible for a number of vicious homicides. It also becomes clear that he is in some way in league with New Orleans mobsters who are killing off African American drug dealers in an attempt to corner the market for crack cocaine and heroin.

Robicheaux is helped by his one-time partner, Clete Purcel, and by a black woman detective, Lucinda Bergeron, and her son Zoot, a teenager on the edge of a life of crime, as well as an itinerant preacher, Brother Oswald Flat. The dramatic finish takes place near an oil-drilling tower in the Gulf of Mexico, with all of these major characters involved.

Burke’s novels are violent, with a certain amount of sex. They are also carefully plotted and very well written, and his characterizations are vivid and lifelike, if often scary. More than most crime novels, Burke’s remain in the memory.