Book Review | A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke

Book Description

After finding himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries, Detective Dave Robicheaux must battle the most terrifying adversary he has ever encountered: a time-traveling superhuman assassin.

The Shondell and Balangie families are longtime enemies in the New Iberia criminal underworld and show each other no mercy. Yet their youngest heirs, Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie, rock and roll-musician teenagers with magical voices, have fallen in love and run away after Isolde was given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle.

As he seeks to uncover why, Detective Dave Robicheaux gets too close to both Isolde’s mother and the mistress of her father, a venomous New Orleans mafioso whose jealousy has no bounds. In retribution, he hires a mysterious assassin to go after Robicheaux and his longtime partner, Clete Purcel. This hitman is unlike any the “Bobbsey Twins from Homicide” have ever faced. He has the ability to induce horrifying hallucinations and travels on a menacing ghost ship that materializes without warning. In order to defeat him and rescue Johnny and Isolde, Robicheaux will have to overcome the demons that have tormented him throughout his adult life—alcoholism, specters from combat in Vietnam, and painful memories of women to whom he opened his heart only to see killed.

A Private Cathedral, James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, is his most powerful tale, one that will captivate readers—mixing crime, romance, mythology, horror, and science fiction to produce a thrilling story about the all-consuming, all-conquering power of love.

Goodreads Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Classic noir hard-boiled mysteries do not typically engage me so thoroughly, but there is a special something about A Private Cathedral that kept drawing me back in every time I put it down. From the descriptions to the paranormal’s inclusion, James Lee Burke’s 40th novel is a treat on many levels.

What I Love

The grit of the story has a unique beauty due to wonderfully detailed descriptions that painted just the right picture, while shocking metaphors that make you look at the ordinary through all new lenses. I loved the use of language in this novel. It immediately drew me in and left me with a whole new appreciation for the written word.

I loved the addition of the paranormal aspect with Gideon Richetti, who claims to be a time-traveling executioner from the 1600s. He is a revelatory or someone who reveals the true nature of the people he comes in contact with. He is also a killer of unbridled proportions. I loved that this unexpected part of the story fits so comfortably in a classic noir.

Dave Robicheaux is a delightfully flawed hero. As with all hard-boiled detectives, he has the code he lives by, and he is faithful to that code. Robicheaux only becomes involved in a relationship with Penelope when she declares that she isn’t married to the man he thought is her husband. Of course, all the other characters raise their eyebrows at this declaration, as I did, but he takes it at face value. He only resorts to violence when he has no other choice. And, he is a loyal partner and co-worker.

The novel is gritty with a dark realism that is enhanced by its staccato rhythm and sharp tone. The pace fits the rhythm and ebbs and flows like the water the ship travels on, keeping me bound in its web of lies and misdirections while providing me with the details that created the multiple layers of the complex cast of characters.

To Read or Not to Read

There is so much to this story that most readers will find enjoyable, and I highly recommend that they jump aboard.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

4 Replies to “Book Review | A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke”

  1. I love when I get lost in the language of a novel. I’m not one to normally read this type of fiction, but it has so many elements that resonated with me, I may have to rethink that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not a big hard-boiled fan. I have e few female detective ones I like. But there was just something about this one. I would at least read a sample and see what you think. ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember you mentioning this on WWW. No way could I forget a time-traveling superhuman assassin. Awesome review, Tessa – glad you enjoyed it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a great addition to the story. It gave it a darkly fun aspect that I enjoyed very much ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

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