Purple Cane Road

James Lee Burke, Author Bantam Books $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-385-48844-0

HAfter the relatively lightweight Sunset Limited (1998), Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux returns in a powerhouse of a thriller that shows Burke writing near the peak of his form. Robicheaux faces his most personal case yet, when a pimp puts him on the trail of the truth behind his mother's long-ago disappearance. Meanwhile, he uncovers new evidence in the case of death-row inmate Letty Labiche, who took a mattock to the man who molested her as a child, state executioner Vachel Carmouche. Burke parades the usual cast of grotesques: feckless Louisiana governor Belmont Pugh; cold-blooded attorney general Connie Deshotel; sleazy police liaison officer Jim Gable, who ""keeps the head of a Vietnamese soldier in a jar of chemicals""; and psychopathic hit man Johnny Remata, who acts as all-around avenging angel. Wife Bootsie's having had a fling with Gable drives Robicheaux into a jealous fury more than once, while daughter Alafair's flirtation with Johnny raises the temperature even higher. Old buddy Clete Purcell doesn't have a lot to do, other than to contribute to the general mayhem. Once Robicheaux learns that his mother fell afoul of a couple of New Orleans cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family, it's a simple matter of identifying the guilty pair and bringing them to justiceDor is it? Burke winds up an often convoluted and gratuitously violent plot with a dynamite ending that will leave readers feeling truly satisfied, if a bit shell-shocked. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Aug.)
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