Onyx reviews: Jolie
Blon's Bounce by James Lee Burke
With age, some wines grow mellow and smooth. Others become hard and bitter.
So, too, some series protagonists. Dave Robicheaux falls in the latter category.
Over the years he has become more cynical, more insular and more tormented by
personal demons. Even so, he's a devoted father, a husband who sometimes becomes
too wrapped up in his own issues to allow his partner emotional access, and a
man with an unwavering view of what's right.
In Jolie Blon's Bounce, Dave encounters evil of Biblical proportion: a man
called Legion Guidry. Guidry, who borrows his name from a New Testament demon,
was a violent sugarcane plantation overseer who hasn't lost any of his edge as
On the face of it, the book is about a pair of murders related only by their
supposed perpetrator, Tee Bobby Hulin, a black musician whose song gives the
book its title. A young couple is attacked in a field. The man is restrained
while his girlfriend is brutally raped and left dead, tied to a tree. The second
victim is a drugged-out prostitute who happens to be the daughter of Joe Zeroski,
one of the local mafia bigwigs. In both cases, Hulin is the obvious suspect but
Dave doesn't believe the drug-addict troublemaker fits the profile for this kind
of brutal crime. Other investigators disagree, as does Zeroski, who's intent on
taking the law into his own hands.
The victims are a study in contrast—a pious, innocent young woman and another
who has descended into the gutters. Even so, their importance to the story seems
to be as vehicles to lead Dave into a series of confrontations with Legion
Guidry and a strangely eerie traveling bible salesman named Marvin Oates, who
offends Dave early on by ogling his teenage daughter, Alafair.
The 75-year-old Guidry beats Dave badly in their first serious encounter—Dave
seems overwhelmed by the man and offers little defense. Guidry adds humiliation
to the beating with a lurid kiss that haunts Dave. His injuries thrust him back
into his personal battle against alcohol and painkillers. Dave's reliable buddy
Clete Purcel, even more of a renegade than Dave, keeps things stirred up with
his on-going series of woman problems and freewheeling vigilante approach to the
Solving the case becomes incidental and, when Dave finally puts the obvious
clues together, it seems like he's been procrastinating. He's at odds with
everyone—his domestic partner, his boss at the New Iberia police station, even
the families of the murder victims and, occasionally, Purcel.
If there's a literary stylist in noir fiction, it's Burke. He immerses his
stories in local color with language so rich it assails the senses. Characters
are deftly and insightfully drawn, each with his own issues and demons.
Louisiana is Burke's turf and Robicheaux is about as tormented as protagonists
come. Burke doesn't shrink from the metaphysical aspects of our world, either.
He entertains the notion that some people personify evil and ghosts from the
past can speak to us in the present.
It's gritty stuff. The depths of the gloom make Louisiana seem like a
third-world country. (Purcel calls it Guatemala North). But there's also a
glimmer of hopefulness. Dave meets a homeless vet who claims they knew each
other in Vietnam. The vet may well have saved Dave's life, but he's a hazy
character. Perhaps one of the shades that Dave frequently encounters in his
life, a hint of good to counter the otherwise relentless evil he faces daily.
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