The Bookworm: Twists and turns in ‘Blues’ and the cat storyteller

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“The New Iberia Blues”

  • By James Lee Burke
  • c. 2019, Simon & Schuster
  • $27.99, $36.99 Canada; 451 pages

Your hand is deep in a bucket of crunchy goodness. Without popcorn, a movie is just a bunch of flickering lights, a series of stills in a row, a story that begs for butter and extra salt. Without popcorn, a film is deadly dull – or, as in the new book “The New Iberia Blues” by James Lee Burke – it’s just deadly.

"The New Iberia Blues" by James Lee Burke.

Desmond Cormeir had a rough raising-up.

Born in a truck stop parking lot and quickly abandoned, he was bullied as a child by peers and adults and he always seemed to be abashed about his Cajun background. Detective Dave Robicheaux knew Cormeir then and he watched as the boy made something of himself. Robicheaux was just as proud as anyone when Cormeir became a successful filmmaker and returned to Louisiana, to his roots.

When Lucinda Arceneaux was pulled from the waters surrounding Cormeir’s house, Robicheaux figured his pride was misplaced. Lucinda had died gently, but her corpse was defiled and left in a disturbing manner. Cormeir lied about seeing the body but, oddly, he wasn’t the person Robicheaux had his eye on; instead, Cormeir’s roommate, Antoine Butterworth, seemed to be the man to watch.

Robicheaux’s new partner, a young woman by the name of Bailey Ribbons didn’t trust Butterworth. Neither did Clete Purcel, Robicheaux’s former beat partner and best friend. Butterworth was a truly strange man … but was he a murderer? 

"The New Iberia Blues" author James Lee Burke.

When a local fisherman was discovered rotting in a fishing net with a spear through his middle, it was obvious that someone was, possibly Hugo Tillinger, an escaped Texas convict who was spotted diving into a nearby bayou to hide. Or maybe it was Smiley Wimple, once mistaken as dead and as dangerously addled as ever. And yes, the killer could have been Butterworth. But there was something unusual about the bodies being found: each had some tie to a tarot deck. Each corpse corresponded to a card. Each subsequent death was becoming more and more violently gruesome.

And each was getting closer to Dave Robicheaux.

Reading “The New Iberia Blues” is like sitting on a folding chair during a tornado: you’re sucked in, tipped around, lose your grip, and get a whole lot queasy before things smooth out for a minute. As it is with tornadoes and Dave Robicheaux novels, though, things ain’t over ‘til they’re over.

The only thing to do is to hang on tight, then, and keep this word handy because you’re going to need it: “argh!”

You’ll need it for the twists that discombobulate even the most determined armchair sleuth; try as you might, forget pre-solving this novel. Know that (argh!) bad things happen to good characters you’ve come to like in this series. And know that this book ends, and you’ll eventually have to leave the world that author James Lee Burke has placed you in. Argh!

Indeed, filled with spookiness, spirituality, and slayings a-plenty, this may be the best, most hard-to-figure-out Robicheaux novel yet. Get your hands on it today, because “The New Iberia Blues” positively pops.

“Something Worth Saving”

  • By Sandi Ward
  • c. 2018, Kensington Books 
  • $15.95, $21.95 Canada; 304 pages

Your cat has something important to say to you. Sadly, you’re not as fluent in cat as you wish you were. She meows, and she could want many things or nothing. You might think you know but, as in the new book “Something Worth Saving” by Sandi Ward, she knows her meows are something worth saying.

More than anyone in the world, Lily loved her Charlie.

"Something Worth Saving" by Sandi Ward.

It was he who noticed her alone in a kitten-kennel in the shelter. He was undeterred by her broken leg and the limp it caused, and he held her all the way home, all those years ago. He was her favorite human and she knew when he was hurting.

Like now, when she saw bruises on his ribs and his arm. Lil knew what bruises were – the man who broke her leg gave her first-hand knowledge of them – but she didn’t know who’d given 14-year-old Charlie his.

Charlie wouldn’t say. He didn’t say much these days.

He hadn’t, really, since mom asked dad to move out. Lil wasn’t sure what that was all about; Dad was her second-favorite human but the situation might’ve had something to do with the strong water he drank and the way it made his eyes red.

The whole family was upset about dad moving out. Kevin, the oldest son, had to become “the man of the house,” and Lily was surprised at how aggressive he’d gotten and how he hated Charlie’s time spent with his friend, Reynaldo. Victoria was taking risks with her boyfriend, Aidan, and though Lil knew it was some kind of human mating thing, she didn’t quite trust Aiden. And then there was Mark, who was supposed to be remodeling a room for mom but he was really remodeling her heart. Almost everybody liked him – even the family’s German Shepherd did, but not dad. Lil understood that dad saw Mark as a threat.

“Something Worth Saving” author Sandi Ward.

The immediate concern, however, wasn’t the big people in the house; Lil worried most about her Charlie. He couldn’t go on being hurt, and she could only do just so much to help him.

Ah, humans were such a weird species …

Even if you tend to roll your eyes at first-“person” pet stories, it’s hard not to be charmed by the narrator inside “Something Worth Saving.”

Wise, observant, and admittedly spoiled, Lily the cat is a purr-fect storyteller for a tale of a torn-apart family that must repair broken lives and hearts. Author Sandi Ward doesn’t let Lily become a caricature, though; this is no cartoon cat with cutesy commentary, and she’s not a forced-funny wisecracker. Instead, Lil’s dogged determination to understand what’s going on is happily, believably cat-like, and reading about it is like peeking between the ears of a beloved and very Zen family pet.

Cat lovers, of course, shouldn’t wait one extra second to get their paws on this book. Neither should anyone who wants a light, almost-profanity-free story they can suggest to their bookclub. If that’s you, “Something Worth Saving” is something worth reading.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.