What would Dave Robicheaux do?

James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke


Anyone who loves James Lee Burke can’t come to New Orleans without thinking of Burke’s alter ego, Dave Robicheaux. And he can’t think of Dave without his sidekick, Clete Purcel.

So I’m at the Sheraton downtown in the Big Easy for my wife’s annual pilgrimage to the Pilot International Convention and everywhere I look I see Dave and Clete.

This phenomenon is heightened by the impending release of Burke’s new book, The Light of the World, which I have on pre-order.  It’s his latest Robicheaux book, and it really doesn’t matter what it’s about.

I’ll read every word of it because it’s James Lee Burke and Dave and Clete.

Maybe that’s the way the writing gig is supposed to work.  An author hones his craft as Burke has for decades.  He creates a world    populated by irresistible characters and invites readers to meet them.  Along the way the reader gets hooked, not by some gimmick, but on the essence of these characters, how they represent the world the reader knows to be true but can’t express without them.

And there’s the thing about sidekicks.  I don’t know the first time a sidekick was used as a literary technique, but I know the device goes back virtually to the earliest days of human storytelling. On the one hand the sidekick complements his counterpart, on the other he presents the polar opposite, one dark, one light, one depressed, the other ebullient.  The subtle one needs the guy with the claw hammer, beauty needs the beast.

Dave needs Clete.  Clete needs Dave.  Burke needs them both.


I expect if I look closely in the shadows of Cafe du Monde, in the corner most removed from the brightness of the day, I will find three cohorts eating beignets, maybe smoking a Picayune or two, perhaps with a little something extra in Clete’s chickory coffee, while they smell the sweet aroma and think about what has already been and what lies ahead.

And I am fairly certain that for those three, it don’t get any better than that.

Nor should it.



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