After finding himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries, Detective Dave Robicheaux must battle the most terrifying adversary he has ever encountered: a time-traveling superhuman assassin.
The Shondell and Balangie families are longtime enemies in the New Iberia criminal underworld and show each other no mercy. Yet their youngest heirs, Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie, rock and roll-musician teenagers with magical voices, have fallen in love and run away after Isolde was given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle.
As he seeks to uncover why, Detective Dave Robicheaux gets too close to both Isolde’s mother and the mistress of her father, a venomous New Orleans mafioso whose jealousy has no bounds. In retribution, he hires a mysterious assassin to go after Robicheaux and his longtime partner, Clete Purcel. This hitman is unlike any the “Bobbsey Twins from Homicide” have ever faced. He has the ability to induce horrifying hallucinations and travels on a menacing ghost ship that materializes without warning. In order to defeat him and rescue Johnny and Isolde, Robicheaux will have to overcome the demons that have tormented him throughout his adult life—alcoholism, specters from combat in Vietnam, and painful memories of women to whom he opened his heart only to see killed.
A Private Cathedral, James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, is his most powerful tale, one that will captivate readers—mixing crime, romance, mythology, horror, and science fiction to produce a thrilling story about the all-consuming, all-conquering power of love.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Doing the right thing can be a dangerous business. This hard-hitting installment in James Lee Burke’s long-running Dave Robicheaux series finds the ne’er-do-well Louisiana detective and his loyal friend Clete rescuing a young singer from a despicable human trafficking ring. Unfortunately, this runs them afoul of the deadly crime syndicate that imprisoned her in the first place. Soon, Robicheaux and Clete are down a very dark rabbit hole of rock ’n’ roll dreams, a Romeo-and-Juliet romance, and a ruthless operation with an unthinkably evil agenda. The pulp-fiction energy of this gritty mystery captured our attention even before we got to the freaky paranormal elements. If your library is heavy on Stephen King and Lee Child, A Private Cathedral is for you.
A centuries-long feud between two warring criminal families might be coming to an end in MWA Grand Master Burke's superb 23rd novel featuring New Iberia, La., cop Dave Robicheaux (after 2019's New Iberia Blues), set loosely sometime before 9/11. Those who want to forge a union between the two clans, the Shondells and the Balangies, are pressuring teenage rock 'n' roller Johnny Shondell to deliver Isolde Balangie, his teenage girlfriend and fellow singer, to his powerful, corrupt, and much older uncle, Mark Shondell, for what amounts to an arranged marriage. Johnny and Isolde decide to go on the run instead. Robicheaux's efforts on behalf of the young couple lead to his developing a close relationship with Isolde's mother, which causes a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the lawman must contend with Gideon Richetti, a time-traveling golem. Gideon, whom Burke presents unabashedly as a supernatural being, appears to have pure malevolence on his mind, but he turns out to be a far more complicated creation. Along the way to the wild and bloody climax, alcoholic Vietnam vet Robicheaux contends with his various personal demons and gets some much needed help from PI pal Clete Purcell. An imaginative blend of crime and other genres, Burke's existential drama is both exquisitely executed and profoundly moving.
Another southern gothic mystery
Mr. Burke has always skirted along the supernatural elements in his novels. Always just there teetering on the edge. With this novel he kicked up the supernatural elements to full-tilt boogie. And that’s not a bad thing.
Classic noir hard-boiled mysteries do not typically engage me so thoroughly, but there is a special something about A Private Cathedral that kept drawing me back in every time I put it down. From the descriptions to the paranormal's inclusion, James Lee Burke's 40th novel is a treat on many levels.
What I Love
The grit of the story has a unique beauty due to wonderfully detailed descriptions that painted just the right picture, while shocking metaphors that make you look at the ordinary through all new lenses. I loved the use of language in this novel. It immediately drew me in and left me with a whole new appreciation for the written word.
I loved the addition of the paranormal aspect with Gideon Richetti, who claims to be a time-traveling executioner from the 1600s. He is a revelatory or someone who reveals the true nature of the people he comes in contact with. He is also a killer of unbridled proportions. I loved that this unexpected part of the story fits so comfortably in a classic noir.
Dave Robicheaux is a delightfully flawed hero. As with all hard-boiled detectives, he has the code he lives by, and he is faithful to that code. Robicheaux only becomes involved in a relationship with Penelope when she declares that she isn't married to the man he thought is her husband. Of course, all the other characters raise their eyebrows at this declaration, as I did, but he takes it at face value. He only resorts to violence when he has no other choice. And, he is a loyal partner and co-worker.
The novel is gritty with a dark realism that is enhanced by its staccato rhythm and sharp tone. The pace fits the rhythm and ebbs and flows like the water the ship travels on, keeping me bound in its web of lies and misdirections while providing me with the details that created the multiple layers of the complex cast of characters.
To Read or Not to Read
There is so much to this story that most readers will find enjoyable, and I highly recommend that they jump aboard.
Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
What was book about?
I have read many of the author’s books, but this was too weird. Short in plot. Didn’t need a course on race relations. Didn’t need an author speaking for Black race.