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Review: 'Swan Peak' takes bayou boys Clete, Dave to Montana

Poor old Clete Purcell. He can't even go fishing without running into trouble.

Or, actually, having it come up the road after him. In James Lee Burke's gripping new novel, Swan Peak, that's just what happens to lawman Dave Robicheaux's more-than-half-crazy sidekick. Once trouble gets Clete between its teeth, it doesn't let go — and he, of course, bites back.

Burke makes a bold move in Swan Peak: sending Clete and Dave to Montana for the 17th Robicheaux novel. These are characters born and bred in Louisiana, and taking them away from their natural habitat in New Orleans and New Iberia is mighty risky.

But it works. With Dave's wife, Molly, the longtime comrades-in-arms are visiting Albert Hollister, a fiction writer who sounds a bit like the author. (Burke, like Albert, owns a ranch near Lolo Pass.)

But the past comes with them. Clete's angling is interrupted by a couple of tough guys, one of whom used to work for Sally Dio, an inept mobster with whom Clete had a complicated relationship — until Dio died in a suspicious plane crash in Montana.

Now the goon works for brothers Ridley and Leslie Wellstone, dangerously rich oilmen from Texas, and Leslie's gorgeous wife, Jamie Sue, a country singer. Jamie Sue married Leslie after her true love, guitarist Jimmy Dale Greenwood, went to prison. Jimmy Dale is out now, the hard way, and looking for her — and a huge, brutal prison guard and Abu Ghraib veteran named Troyce Nix is looking for Jimmy Dale.

What draws Dave and Clete into their tangled orbits is the ghastly murder of two college students. Which, if any, of them is connected to those deaths is only the first question.

As always, Burke is an absolute master of bringing a setting to life. And Clete and Dave in the West? What has their code of violence in the name of justice ever been but the cowboy way?

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

Swan Peak

By James Lee Burke

Simon & Schuster, 402 pages, $25.95

Review: 'Swan Peak' takes bayou boys Clete, Dave to Montana 07/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, July 19, 2008 4:30am]
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