Picks and Pans Review: Last Car to Elysian Fields

updated 12/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/15/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

By James Lee Burke

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In Burke's latest darkly comic thriller starring the intrepid, melancholy Cajun-country Det. Dave Robicheaux, a "wacko" Irish hit man named Max Coll receives an assignment in New Orleans. Things go so awry for mad Max that he decides the place is crazier than he is, making him lament that the city is "an outdoor mental asylum located on top of a giant sponge."

But the extravagant lunacy of the Big Easy is only a backdrop for what is actually a fierce morality tale. Robicheaux is trying to solve the puzzles linking a fiery car crash that kills three teenage girls, the murder of a father seeking revenge and a priest fighting for justice whose life is in danger. In the world Burke has created, all rich folk, from local gentry to the President, are presumed guilty. Even the hero is in search of redemption: Robicheaux is an ex-drunk still yearning for "golden needles," the beer bubbles of his poetic recollection. Wit, political outrage, extreme characters, elegantly muscular prose and subplots as vivid as bougainvillea blossoms make this Car fly.


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