March 04, 1991 12:00 PM

by James Lee Burke

Burke won a 1989 Edgar for best mystery with Black Cherry Blues, but here he tops that first-rate effort.

He’s got the mood (New Orleans rich, Mafia crazed); he’s got the crimes (bodies stack 10 deep); he’s got the passion (gun-clicking cops, steamy women, dead-eye crooks). He’s got the detective—Dave Robicheaux, starring in his fourth Burke novel.

Robicheaux is on transport detail, moving two death-row inmates—Jimmie Lee Boggs and Tee Beau Latiolais—to their execution site. The cons, however, have a foolproof escape plan and, at the first opportunity, make their move. When the gun smoke clears, one cop is dead, Robicheaux is wounded, and the felons are gone.

Once his wounds heal, Robicheaux, obsessed with recapturing the escapees, infiltrates a mob family to which Boggs belongs. Buried as deep as a cop can get, Robicheaux confronts a mix of Mafia madness and voodoo. Soon his relationship with crime boss Tony Cardo deepens. Here, Dave listens to some advice from the man: “You’re a good guy, Dave, but you’re still a newbie. There’s two ways you run the business—you don’t get greedy, you piece off the action, you treat people fair. Then your conscience is clear, you got respect in your community, people trust you. Then when somebody else breaks the rules, gets greedy, tries to put a lock on your action, you blow up their s—. You don’t f—around when you do it, either. It’s like a free-fire zone. Nobody likes it, but the only thing that counts is who walks out of the smoke.”

There have been other gritty, steel-edged mysteries set in New Orleans recently. But none has had the impact, the drive and the reach of A Morning for Flamingos. It’s nothing less than a dead-on bull’s-eye. (Little, Brown, $18.95)

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