In his 11th outing, New Iberia, La., deputy sheriff Dave Robicheaux is in tip-top form. Two cases come to obsess the veteran homicide detective. The first involves proving the innocence of a woman on death row convicted of murdering her neighbor—who happens to have been the state's official executioner. The other is more personal. As Robicheaux delves painfully into his own past, he finds that his long-dead mother was not quite the woman he thought she was. Along for the ride is Robicheaux's sidekick, the immense and impulsive Clete Purcell, who handcuffs a nasty perp inside his convertible and sends him through a car wash to clean up his act.
But comedy takes a back seat to character for Burke (Sunset Limited, Dixie City Jam). As with his contemporaries Walter Mosley and James Ellroy, the Edgar Award-winning Burke's literary ambition has moved far beyond the confines of the crime genre. His magnolia-soaked prose and hallucinogenic tales address a wider world of conscience and consequence. Beneath the placid surface of Burke's fevered bayou, dark shapes move with strange intent. (Doubleday, $24.95)