Clete Purcel is still a junkyard falling down a staircase in the latest novel by James Lee Burke

My initial radio interview with James Lee Burke occurred in 1997. It was for his book “Cimarron Rose. The following year it won the Edgar Award for Best Mystery Novel. Last week I did my 24th interview with Burke for his latest Dave Robicheaux novel, “Clete.” It is his 24th book in this venerable series.

I have interviewed him more times than any other writer. The first book I reviewed in this column was one of his. I have interviewed him for his last 21 books and always look forward to our conversations. He never fails to come up with an anecdote I had not heard before-he also has the most infectious laugh on the planet.

I was excited about talking to him about his latest and I wanted to congratulate him because “Flags on the Bayou,” the novel he put out a year ago, just earned him another Edgar Award. In “Clete” Dave Robicheaux’s partner in solving crimes, Clete Purcel, is finally narrating his own book.

Readers familiar with this series know Dave and Clete are former New Orleans cops. These days Dave works for the sheriff’s department, Clete is a private eye. Burke describes them as flip sides of the same coin, knights errant spurred by impulses to protect the weak and defenseless from pedophiles, corrupt politicians, drug pushers, racists, pimps, and the sociopaths the author believes originate in different gene pools from the rest of us.

It’s the late 1990′s-Clete had taken his 1959 lavender pink Cadillac Eldorado convertible across the river from New Orleans to a carwash in Algiers. The next day he goes outside and finds some guys trashing it.

Burke describes it: “a guy with ink all over him, to the degree that I couldn’t tell his race, and two white guys were ripping the Caddy’s insides out.” One guy is wearing a t-shirt that says “6 MILLION ARE NOT ENOUGH.” Clete is already furious, this anti-semitic message pushes him over the edge.

“Ink Man” is just one villain Clete encounters in this fast-paced, captivating story. I interviewed the author recently, he explained they were tearing Clete’s car apart searching for something they thought got hidden inside it at the carwash.

Burke devises a plot involving a substance that could cause a catastrophic global pandemic much like the bubonic plague did centuries ago. He cited how back then one ship returning from China docked in Italy. Rats on board were carriers of what became known as the Black Death. They scurried ashore, spreading it throughout Europe.

Now some evildoers wanted to release a pathogen into a climate that was heating up, thus creating an ideal environment for this disease to flourish. Clete has a supernatural guardian in this one. He keeps seeing a woman who looks like someone who lived centuries ago. She appears whenever Clete really needs her.

Burke rarely slows down. Now he’s completing the final chapters of “The Hadacol Boogie,” his 25th Robicheaux novel.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit Contact him at

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

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