Saturday, March 21, 2009

Crusader's Cross - James Lee Burke

In the fourteenth Dave Robicheaux novel, a face from the past that has haunted Dave since he was 20 re-emerges. Dave and his brother Jimmie had long since thought Ida Durbin was dead. But when some odd events start occurring, Ida's death becomes more and more suspect, and all signs lead back to the wealthy Chalons family.

Meanwhile, someone is on the loose killing women in Baton Rouge. The Baton Rouge serial killer hits close to home when he kills a young woman Dave interviewed and then dumps one of his victims in New Iberia Perish.

Dave, Clete, Helen, and Molly, Dave's new love interest, all find themselves wrapped up in murder and mayhem as Dave tries to unravel all the mysteries.

Once again, James Lee Burke has created a poetic masterpiece. While Crusader's Cross probably doesn't rank among my favorite Robicheaux novels, it's still among the elite in the world of crime fiction. Burke is known for his exquisite setting development and how accurately it reflects the Louisiana Bayou. His development also mimics the slow, easy pace of the Deep South. Crusader's Cross stays true to this form.

Valentine Chalons is a repulsive antagonist coming from an extremely dysfunctional, wealthy, southern family. Lou Cale/Coin is equally repulsive. Yet, I still feel sorry for them when Dave "loses it" and sinks to their levels. Dave Robicheaux is one of the most unique characters in crime fiction in the sense that you don't always cheer him on. He has such realistic human qualities, and those qualities include a side that isn't always lovable or endearing. Robicheaux is constantly battling evil and sometimes that evil just drags him right down with it. Helen does her best to keep Dave out of the slime, but sometimes even that isn't enough. In Crusader's Cross, Helen gives Dave his shield back only to have to park him on desk duty almost immediately afterward.

Clete is Clete. There is no comparison to Clete, a walking contradiction. He's as devoted a friend as any fictional character will find, but as usual the lengths he'll go to prove that devotion are often frightening.

Dave is on wife number four with Molly. I worry for her safety. His previous wives haven't had such a good go of things! But, Molly fits Dave's type. She's a rebel; she's down-to-earth; and she's a scrapper.

The dynamics of the characters as well as the relationships between them is pure gold and pure Burke.

I listened to this book on audio, and I'm afraid it's going to be my last Dave Robicheaux audio book. Will Patton was the reader, and while I truly enjoy Patton's work in films, I did not enjoy his reading of Dave Robicheaux. I know the major factor is because I've mentally established Mark Hammer's voice as Dave Robicheaux's voice. However, I do have some particular details in addition to my preference for Hammer. Patton was very dramatic, and this novel is told from the perspective of Robicheaux who would never, in my interpretation, be dramatic. And he certainly wouldn't have a breathlessly dramatic sound. Even though Burke's descriptions are often breath-taking for the reader, it's common place for Dave; he lives in it every day. In addition, the man who corrects his adopted daughter on her speech would not say "da" in place of "the" or use a hard "t" sound on a th consonant blend.

As with all Dave Robicheaux novels, there were many French-derived names present. Patton didn't seem to pronounce them as fluidly as Hammer always did. The accents, the stresses, the pronunciations just flowed in Hammer's readings and Patton has a more jerky style when he stresses certain syllables in those French pronunciations. It sounds almost like he's having difficulty pronouncing them.

Then there's the role of Clete Purcell. Never in a million years would I have imagined Clete to sound the way Patton read his role. There simply are not words. However, I do believe he missed a significant amount of the sarcasm that is essential to Clete's character. I didn't laugh anywhere near as much with Clete as when I've read a book myself or listened to Hammer's reading.

I know that it isn't fair to compare the two readers; each is his own person with his own style. And I've heard many people who loved Patton's reading. But I've created an image of Robicheaux in my mind, my imagination, and Hammer nailed that image (pun intended - ha!). This reading simply didn't measure up to the perfection of Hammer as Robicheaux.


le0pard13 March 21, 2009 at 11:13 AM  

Generally speaking, I think your criticism of the reader is completely fair. The narrator is the interpreter of Burke's words in the audio format. Readers are an additional and key entity to the party that experiencing the author's work is for those like us.

I see that Simon & Schuster published the unabridged audio. I recommend dropping them an email (or in analog, a letter) pointing them to your solid review. WP may be popular among some who love Burke's books, but you never know what your opinion can accomplish.

When our friend Patrick Lawlor unfortunately returned to perform the unabr. The Monkey's Raincoat and Stalking the Angel for Brilliance Audio, I wrote and criticized their studio managers for blowing it in the choice for reader. Not that I think my lone voice had anything to do with it--but I think it added to the larger group who let their opinion be known to the publisher. And, he didn't return for LT, FF, or VR in the '08 releases ;-)

Corey Wilde March 21, 2009 at 11:14 AM  

Jen, you've summarized my opinion of this book very neatly. Not the best of the Robicheaux series but Burke is always worth reading.

And let me cheer you on for articulating all the reasons why I, too, cannot listen to Patton read Burke's books after having been blessed with Mark Hammer's perfect renditions. With every new book from Burke, I miss Hammer more. I rarely prefer audio books to the printed page because the reader's voice interferes with my mental images, but in Hammer's case he enhanced, perfected what I saw in my mind's eye. I surely wish that Hammer had lived long enough to record 'Tin Roof Blowdown.'

beauvallet March 21, 2009 at 7:29 PM  

I think you make valid points about Will Patton's pronunciation and his breathlessness. It is irritating. And I like the gravel in Hammer's voice, it seems to add to the atmosphere and is so right for Dave's character. And nobody could ever do justice to Clete the way Hammer could. But having said all that, I think sometimes it's good to hear Burke's work spoken, even by a less effective reader, just to get the full impact of how beautiful his prose is. Listening sort of releases me from the effort of reading and all I have to do is imagine.
But you are right, they will never find a better Dave Robicheaux reader than Hammer.

Steve Weems March 23, 2009 at 11:04 AM  

What a pleasure to read your reviews. I don't listen to audiobooks much, but always enjoy your analysis. And I skimmed ahead just to find what you said about Clete this go around.

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