Sink the pirogue in the bayou, lock down the storm shutters, and trim the wicks on the kerosene lamps. There's a hurricane due to make a landfall down around Atchafalaya Bay, a movie company is filming a Civil War epic out at Spanish Lake, a self-proclaimed psychic and matinee idol has found the bones of a 1957 lynching victim over in St. Mary's Parish, Julie ''Baby Feet'' Balboni of the New Orleans mob has taken up residence at the Holiday Inn with a passel of henchmen and hookers, and the butchered corpses of young women are turning up in disturbing numbers on levees and in roadside ditches all over south Louisiana. It was this kind of craziness that led Dave Robicheaux, the hero of James Lee Burke's In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead, to retire from the New Orleans Police Department and seek refuge as a fishing-dock operator and deputy sheriff in rural Iberia Parish.
Is it possible the Cajun detective will find a connection between these seemingly unrelated events? Do possums climb persimmon trees?
Mist is Burke's sixth novel to feature Robicheaux, the ''coonass'' lawman who takes pride in the term. As detective series go, they're first-rate featuring complex, mostly believable plots, vivid minor characters, and crisp, witty ! dialogue in several south Louisiana dialects, not all of it uplifting. ''I been knowing that girl a long time,'' says a musician called Hogman. ''She love zydeco and blues music. I tole her, 'Darlin', don't let them mens use you for no chicken.'''
If Burke occasionally pads the narrative with superfluous weather reports, he can be forgiven. Among writers in the genre, only Tony Hillerman's novels about the Navajo Tribal Police match Burke's ability to write evocatively about the natural world high praise indeed.
Despite an unconvincing subplot involving psychic phenomena and a stereotypical slam-bang ending, In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead is as satisfying as any novel Burke has written. It's hard to imagine readers not bolting it down like a steaming platter of crawfish etouffee. A-