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Not just another page turner

A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke, Simon and Schuster, US $20.00, Pp 384, August 2020, ISBN 9781982151683

In the third novel of the trilogy — which began with Robicheaux (2018) and continued in The New Iberia Blues (2019) — Detective Dave Robicheaux finds himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family feuds — between the Shondells and the Balangies. A Private Cathedral is set in the pre-9/11 days when Robicheaux was still working at the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department. His adversary is a time-travelling superhuman assassin. The Shondells and the Balangies have been monopolizing the New Iberia criminal underworld and do not lose any opportunity to destroy the other. In what came as the rudest surprise to both the families, the learned that their youngest heirs — Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie – have fallen in love and have run away after Isolde was promised to be given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle. This was not reported to the Sheriff’s department. Robicheaux learned about it from Isolde Balangie herself, who told him that Johnny is handing her over to his uncle Mark. She told him that all the Shondells should be killed because the family had burned her ancestor at the stake 400 years ago.

Robicheaux knows it is not easy to dig out these mafioso’s past. Clueless Robicheaux makes friends with Isolde’s mother and her father’s mistress to find out what was going on. Isolde’s father who is part of the criminal New Orleans mafioso is a brutal person who can do anything to take revenge. When he learns of Robicheaux’s plans he hires an assassin — Clete Purcel — who has been in his service to commit such crimes on his behalf. Clete Purcel is not like any other killer. He can induce horrifying hallucinations in his victims and travels on a ghost ship. He does not believe in issuing warnings to his victims. To fight such a person and rescue Johnny and Isolde will not be easy. Robicheaux has to defeat the demons such as alcoholism, memory of his work in Vietnam. That is not the end. The memory of women who betrayed him also still haunts him. James Lee Burke is a gifted storyteller who brings crime, romance, and mythology together in what verges on science fiction. It is more than a standard page-turning crime. – horrifying and sublime at the same time. This enchanting and wrenching novel is arguably one of his best work.

About the author

James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He has authored thirty-eight novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

(Author bios are normally provided by the publishers.)

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