James Lee Burke
A Morning For Flamingos
A routine assignment transporting two death-row prisoners to their executions goes fatally wrong, leaving Dave Robicheaux brutally wounded and his partner dead. Obsessed with revenge, Dave is persuaded by the DEA to go undercover into the torrid sleepy depths of New Orleans, a volatile world of Mafia drug-running and Cajun voodoo magic. He becomes irrevocably snarled in the nightmarish web surrounding Mafia don Tony Cardo and must put himself against his own worst fears in order to survive.
Dave Robicheaux has recently returned to the New Iberia, Louisiana Police Department. He and his partner, Lester Benoit, have been assigned to transport two convicted criminals to the Angola state penitentiary. One of those prisoners is Tee Beau Latiolais; the other is Jimmie Lee Boggs. Both have been convicted of murder and are being sent to Angola’s Death Row. While Robicheaux, Benoit and the prisoners are en route, Boggs manages to escape, killing Benoit and leaving Robicheaux for dead. Robicheaux survives, largely thanks to Tee Beau, and takes some leave from the police
department to heal from his wounds. During his convalescence, Robicheaux spends some time with an old friend, former DEA agent Minos Dautrieve. Dautrieve’s been assigned to the Presidential Task Force on Drugs, and soon tries to persuade Robicheaux to take part in a “sting” operation against New Orleans drug dealer and crime boss Tony Cardo. At first, Robicheaux’s unwilling. He has no interest in the politics of the “drug war,” nor in getting involved in what could be a lethal operation. However, he soon finds out that Tee Beau Latiolais may not be guilty of the murder of which he’s been convicted, and that Boggs probably knows the truth about that killing. He also finds out that Boggs may be in New Orleans and may be mixed up with Cardo. So when Dautrieve suggests that the “sting” operation would be a good chance to even the score with Boggs, Robicheaux reluctantly agrees. He soon makes contact with Cardo and is accepted as a “dirty cop."
What’s supposed to be a straightforward “sting” operation soon turns out to be much more complicated. First it becomes apparent than an insider is leaking information on the movements of Cardo’s people. This gets the local New Orleans police involved. It also puts several of Cardo’s people at risk. Robicheaux, too, is in grave danger. Second, and even more of a complication, the more time Robicheaux spends with Cardo, the less convinced he is that Cardo is the heartless thug and assassin he’s made out to be.
One of the strongest elements in this novel is the sense of place. Robicheaux’s world is Louisiana, and the reader gets that sense in many ways. It’s not just the physical descriptions, either, that give the reader this sense of place. Dialogue is also a very important part of what gives this book the “feel” of Louisiana. Even the characters’ names remind one of where one is in this novel.
Most of the characters are complex and multi-dimensional. That’s particularly true of Dave Robicheaux. He’s haunted by his memories of Vietnam, he’s conflicted about Tony Cardo, and overall, he’s a complicated person. At a deep level, he’s a decent human being who tries to do the right thing. That’s why he tries to clear Tee Beau’s name when he discovers the young man may be innocent. It’s also why he reluctantly agrees to take part in the “sting” operation. But it’s also why he feels a bond of sympathy with Cardo, particularly after he finds out some things about Cardo’s personal life. There’s also the complicated relationship that Robicheaux has with his daughter Alafair. He loves her very much and wants to keep her out of danger. Yet he agrees to the “sting” operation which will separate the two.
Tension builds within characters, and between different groups that play roles in the novel. For instance, between the DEA and the New Orleans police.
Burke’s almost lyrical writing style, the strong sense of place, the complex characterization, and the thread of tension that runs through the novel all give A Morning For Flamingosa unique flavour.
About James Lee Burke:
James Lee Burke is an American author best known for his mysteries, particularly the Dave Robicheaux series. He has twice received the Edgar Award for Best Novel, for Black Cherry Blues in 1990 and Cimarron Rose in 1998.
Burke was born in Houston, Texas, but grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Missouri, receiving a BA and MA from the latter. He has worked at a wide variety of jobs over the years, including working in the oil industry, as a reporter, and as a social worker. He was Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, succeeding his good friend and posthumous Pulitzer Prize winner John Kennedy Toole, and preceding Ernest Gaines in the position. Shortly before his move to Montana, he taught for several years in the Creative Writing program at Wichita State University in the 1980s.
His first novel. Half of Paradise, was published in 1965. In 2009 he received the MWA's Grand Master Award.
Burke and his wife, Pearl, split their time between Lolo, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana. Their daughter, Alafair Burke, is also a mystery novelist.