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10 thoughts on “Last Car to Elysian Fields

  1. says:

    Although the Dave Robicheaux series has a uniform thread which runs through every book, they are not all the same. Every story, to me, is unique and can stand alone if need be.

    However "Last Car..." is in my opinion, the best one I've read in a long time and deserves five stars which I'm very stingy with by the way.

    Published in 2003, James Lee Burke is at the top of the game.

    James Lee Burke is one my of top five writers alive today. Amazing writer.

    Many thanks to whoever suggested I read Burke. He's given me so many hours of reading pleasure.


  2. says:

    3.5 Stars

    This was probably the most depressing book in the Dave Robicheaux series that I have read so far. His third wife; Bootsie; has died, His adopted daughter; Alafair; is away at school in Oregon, his home; that his father had built; has burned to the ground, he sold his boat rental and bait shop, and Helen Solileau; once his partner; is now sheriff. Cletus Purcel, his former partner in the NOPD and now a PI, is the one unchanging rock in Dave's life. Thank goodness for Clete. He is a loyal and faithful friend and his antics will again leave you shaking your head or laughing or both.

    As is usually the case there is a large cast of characters and many subplots in this story. The story opens with Robicheaux back in New Orleans investigating the brutal assault of an old friend, Father Jimmie Dolan, a Catholic priest who always seems to be the center of controversy. Father Jimmie asks Dave to help investigate the presence of a toxic landfill near St. James Parish. He also mentions the story of blues singer Junior Crudup, who entered Angola Penitentiary in the 1950s and was never heard from again. Meanwhile back in New Iberia three local teenage girls are killed in a drunk-driving accident, the driver being the seventeen-year-old daughter of a prominent physician. Somehow the author manages to weave all of these together. The thread that binds all of these subplots together is power and greed. Another common theme in the series.

    The world Dave grew up in was gone and he wants to pretend otherwise. He is not happy to see Walmart, malls, developments, etc. encroaching his beloved bayou. The main theme in this book seems to be change. And dealing with change. Another theme is Southern Louisiana's past prison farm system and convict labor. The story seamlessly navigates between the past and present and does an excellent job describing the brutality of this system. It isn't the 1940's or 50's anymore but the past may not be dead as voices from the grave remind Dave.


  3. says:

    Last Car to Elysian Fields is the thirteenth book in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series. In this installment, Dave is on his own. Alafair has gone off to school and his third wife, Bootsy has died. When his friend Father Jimmie Dolan is threatened because his actions are making the wrong people angry, Dave tries to throw some interference.

    Dave also begins to look into the mysterious disappearance of a old blues singer, Junior Crudup, who went into Angola prison but never came out, nor did he die according to any prison records. And between these two story lines, Dave ends up face-to-face with an IRA assassin, kidnapped, and suspended.

    Many series will be stale by book thirteen, but James Lee Burke somehow manages to keep Dave and Clete from ever becoming old or cliche. I listened to this book on audio read by Mark Hammer, and as I've mentioned before I do not think there is a better match of reader and book. Experiencing a Dave Robicheaux novel read by Mark Hammer is something every crime fiction fan should indulge in at some time, even if you're one of those people who believe you don't like listening to audio books. This is a purely magical experience. Hammer's gritty sound coupled with his seemingly natural ability to nail all the dialects is amazing in and of itself. But when you couple it with his interpretation of Burke's words and themes, the experience becomes heavenly. In this book alone, Hammer has the regular southern dialect of the main characters but he also seamlessly alternates to a thick Irish brogue and an Italian mobster accent. A "failure to communicate" is a common occurrence in Dave Robicheaux novels, as the reader will find through the repetition of the single word "what?" Through Hammer's voice, you can hear confusion from this word, you can hear frustration, you might hear anger. But that simple word is the best example of how Hammer interprets the novel, he NEVER just reads the novel.

    Burke, of course, is well-known for his distinct talent at developing setting, the Louisiana bayou setting. But his characters are also exquisitely developed in each novel. One of the elements of his writing that keeps me coming back time after time is the uncanny way Burke evokes both loathing and sympathy from me for almost every character. He can create a revolting antagonist, but there will be some point in the book where I feel sorry for the poor sap. It never fails. And I end up asking myself, "why do you feel sorry for this guy?" And then my brain is in overdrive, and I devour books that ignite that process inside me. The books that make you look beyond the black and white and see all the gray that's really there. Dave Robicheaux, Burke's protagonist, is not always a likable character. And Burke challenges his readers to reach deep down inside and make a connection with this man. I think this particular book points that challenge out rather explicitly through the character of Castille LeJeune who repeatedly tells Dave that the meaning of his literal words is eluding LeJeune.

    Clete Purcel is one of my favorite characters in crime fiction, but I don't think I'd ever want to know him in reality. I sure wouldn't want to get on his bad side. But what reader can resist Clete's witticisms? Or his undying devotion to Dave? And Helen Soileau's sarcasm is equally entertaining. These two characters do a lot to lighten the heaviness of Burke's tone.

    James Lee Burke manages to do what few authors can, he manages to make me believe that each book I read is better than the one before it. That is an amazing accomplishment!


  4. says:

    Trying to come up with explanation as to why I never heard of this author and can't. My enjoyment of this book will require that I catch up as able with the other Robicheaux books written by James Lee Burke. Authentic characters and settings, hard-nosed police work that matched the challenges, beautifully crafted descriptions of place and ample updates from past life events that provide enough background information for stand-alone reading. Another element I embrace - hilarious moments.
    Movies? Missed them. However late to the game, I plan to read the full series. I love this guy after just one book.


  5. says:

    Another JLB masterpiece...."Wasting no time on preliminaries, Dave and his old buddy, p.i. Clete Purcel, end the opening scene pummeling one-time porn actor Gunner Ardoin for beating New Orleans priest Jimmie Dolan and are soon facing Gunner’s civil suit and his likely innocence. But there are more than enough sleazeballs to go around, from Gunner’s mobbed-up boss Fat Sammy Figorelli to waste-management contractor Merchie Flannigan to Merchie’s wife, crime-writer Theodosha LeJeune, to Theo’s father, spuriously genteel Castille LeJeune, whose 1951 blues recording of imprisoned Junior Crudup is practically the last anybody heard from Junior before he vanished from Angola Prison. Things heat up further with the fatal car crash of Lori Parks, a teenaged veteran of Ecstasy and DWI charges, who bought the daiquiri that pushed her over the line from an obliging boy who worked for Castille LeJeune. Dave, of course, keeps straying outside his jurisdiction to threaten or batter lowlifes, but this time he’s bookended by Lori’s father, who’s determined to avenge her, and by Father Jimmie, dogged by a visiting killer whose moral conflicts bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the priest’s own."


  6. says:

    Burke delivers, as usual. Excellently written, intriguing, and highly enjoyable reading.


  7. says:

    James Lee Burke is an exquisite writer and Dave Robicheaux is a wonderful character channeling many "middle aged" male items of angst...plus he carries a gun, got a cool job and great friends...I'm all out of order with the series, but enjoyed this tale of Dave digging into 50 year-old missing Blues Master who disappeared on a work gang...along the way we run into a rebel priest, an IRA hitman and a bunch of assorted NOLA lowlifes...though I've read most of the series, I really think I enjoy Will Patton's interpretation of Dave on the 2 books on CD I've encountered...either way Burke's stories are really entertaining!


  8. says:

    One of the main features of the Robicheaux series that keeps it fresh in spite of broadly similar plots is the evolution of its protagonist. Robicheaux's fortunes alternate every three to four books as he is either finding a modicum of peace or plunging into newer depths of loss. The latest cycle started at Purple Cane Road (#11) and focussed on tearing down Robicheaux all over again. So in Last Car to Elysian Fields he is at a nadir that the series last explored at its very inception.

    The series has dwelled a lot on Robicheaux's alcoholism but it is his other demon - violence that comes to fore here. I still remember that in A Morning for Flamingoes (#4), Robicheaux tried his best to capture a sadistic escaped convict alive even when he shot and left Robicheaux to die. The man we see in the first half if the book is a far cry from that. Robicheaux basically unloads on a lowlife simply because he happened to cross his path on a bad day and plays an ancillary part in getting him killed. Burke's protagonist are never a barrel of laughs but Robicheaux in the first half of the book is dark and repulsive even by those standards. But the character doesn't suffer because his bad decisions seem product of pent up helplessness and frustration, they have consequences and he grows from it. Plus Robicheaux is never treated as a hero, most others characters treat him with pity and derision.

    Burke's gift of exquisite characterization is not exclusive to the protagonist. Clete Purcell, the only constant in Robicheaux's life shifts from cracking crass yet scathing jokes to being a psychotic one man wrecking crew. He is always smart enough to tell Robicheaux how insane his plans are and always loyal enough to double down on the insanity. The other characters are archetypes Burke has used numerous times before. The rich, amiable white man - Castille Lejeune who appears to be respectability personified except Robicheaux is convinced that there is no depravity he has not dabbled in. The oppressed black man - blues singer Junior Crudup whose greatest crime is having a dream and whose greatest dream is being treated with an approximation of respect. The ex lover - married daughter of Lejeune. The last archetype doesn't work, Robicheaux is never portrayed as a ladies man so it is not credible he has lovers crawling out of the woodwork every second book.

    The plot has Robicheaux hounding Lejeune to find out what happened to Crudup. Another major strand deals with a moral hitman (another Burke archetype) trying to kill a Catholic priest Robicheaux is fond of. The plots entwine at the very end and fit more snugly than most other narratives that happen to be as sprawling as Last Car to Elysian Fields. As always in Burke books, it is marred with violence and as always Burke shows violence begets nothing but tragedy.

    Another thing that I love in the series is the symbolism that is always present in the background. The priest and the hit man are equally delusional about being principled because the first master their principles serve is their burgeoning pride. Robicheaux's misfortune is rivalled by that of another character - Dr. Parks. The both of them have the same first instinct to resort to violence against convenient targets but Parks restrains himself and that ends in a tragedy for him. So Parks manages to be a better man than the protagonist but still ends up losing. None of this is subtle but neither is it spelled out. Like the best books the more you think about Burke's work, the more you get out of it.

    A singer reusing his riffs and tunes is considered acceptable but an author is never afforded the same goodwill with reused plotlines. And there is not a shred of originality here. Burke has used all these ideas before. Maybe it is more obvious to me as I have read about 20 Burke books in last 1.5 years. But when they happen to both entertaining and thematically rich, I can't complain much. So more of the same but I have always afforded more importance to how the book is written rather than what it is about. Rating - 4/5.


  9. says:

    Not my favorite ...

    James Lee Burke is a masterful storyteller. His descriptive narratives are wonderful, and I like them better than his stories, sometimes. This book had too many characters, and I kept wishing I were reading a print book so I could flip back and reread to keep them straight. I’ll read the next one, and I hope it is a better story.


  10. says:

    Dave Robicheaux and his close friend Clete Purcel really balance each others characters in the three James Lee Burke novels I have read to date. Clete has no restraint drinks heavily as a private eye/ bounty chaser has fewer legal restrictions than Dave does as a police officer In New Iberia, Louisiana. Clete acts rashly and end up jail to be helped by Dave, who almost always is shot at or held prisoner only to be rescued by Clete.

    The beating of a catholic priest, and the death of three teenage who had purchased drinks at a drive by daiquiri store without ID's leads to a contract on the priest. Blods flows and Dave ansd Clete try to work together to solve the cases both old and new. Max Coll an Irish Hitman adds to the story. Be careful where point you that gun someone is going to die.

    History, the blues, a black blues artist, prison camp number nine, a world war two war hero, contract killer, a buried body, and porn stars, only in New Orleans