In James Lee Burke’s Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel, the New Iberia, La., deputy sheriff and his best friend, Clete Purcel, take on corrupt politicians, oil men, and a possible Nazi war criminal.

Many of your books have had classical antecedents. Was there a particular classical model for Creole Belle?

I made use of some Greek myths, as is my habit, I'm afraid: Proteus rising from the sea, Charon at the River Styx, the legend of Prometheus. I'm also guilty often of stealing from the Bible.

Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel have been through a lot together, and are feeling the ravages of age. How has your own attitude toward them evolved over the years?

Here's the big joke that Dave discovers about age: any wisdom you acquire you cannot pass on to others. Everybody gets to the barn, but that's a hard conclusion to reach as you're entering the corral. They are both complicated men, but one is not complete without the other. Dave is the idealist, the quixotic figure breaking his lance on windmills, and of course Clete is the Merry Prankster, the trickster out of folk mythology. But ultimately both are chivalric and decent men, and each will lay down his life for the other.

Robicheaux asks, "Does the system serve and treat everyone equally? Does anyone in his right mind believe that?" Any thoughts?

On several occasions Dave says he has never heard of a wealthy person in this country being executed. Neither have I. I believe this is the greatest country on earth, and I think the rest of the world looks to us as a model. Unfortunately, our greatest virtue—loyalty to our country and government in times of crisis—is often used against us. An even more disturbing factor, in my opinion, is the hijacking of Christianity in order to continue the militarization of our culture.

The BP oil spill looms in the background of Creole Belle.

In my view, the most powerful economic and political influence in the world is the petrochemical industry. Energy was the issue in 1914. I believe energy is the issue today. BP is just one part of the story. I think we're walking in the footsteps of the French and the English, and we will come to the same end as they. The ruination of the Louisiana wetlands is the price we pay for cheap gasoline. The cost we pay in blood can't be measured.