A Private Cathedral

A Private Cathedral (Dave Robicheaux #23)

Burke’s “A Private Cathedral” is a chilling story about angels, devils, personal demons, and sour madness. Set in the Louisiana countryside, the book is filled with biblical imagery and told in such a gorgeous prose that the reader will find themselves highlighting every other paragraph. Ostensibly, its a detective tale about mafiosos and human trafficking, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that’s what’s really here.

For most of the book, Robicheaux and his Bobsey twin, Clete Purcell, are caught in a virtual tempest between two warring all-powerful crime families whose animosity and customs go back four hundred years. They’ve poked their noses into family customs that are hard to disturb. It’s not necessarily all about the plot so much as the suffocating atmosphere of thunder and lightning and rain and all hell about to break loose. Haunting might be a good word to describe the visions Burke leaves us with. Chilling might be another word. It’s a story about looking evil in the eye and surviving wounded bitter lost and lonely.

What sets this book (and perhaps this series) apart from so many others is that the writing is all-intoxicating. There is no let up. The tension never stops building and the evil grows throughout. There is a contemplativeness about the narrative, beginning with talking about those rare moments when “you hang between life and death and ache to hold on to the earth and eternity at the same time.” The prose tells us, the readers, about “waves pounding on the beach, devouring the sand, as though the tide were sliding backward in mockery of itself.” And, it begins with a man who “was tired of evil and all its manifestations and our attempts to explain its existence.” It is, as to be expected, quite a dark and treacherous journey.

This is one book worth reading more than once. There’s just so much good stuff thrown in.

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