Heavenís Prisoners

Heavenís Prisoners. By James Lee Burke. (New York, New York.) Pocket Books, 1988.

274 pp.

In James Lee Burkeís novel, Heavenís Prisoners, the reader sees how two people who grow up in the same small cajun town environment during the same time period can grow up to be so different. One man becomes a criminal based in the large city of New Orleans. The other man ends up a retired police officer in New Iberia with a less‑than‑perfect employment record who sells bait and rents boats. James Lee Burke creates Dave Robicheaux and Bubba Rocque to contrast good and evil. Robicheaux sometimes bends the rules, but he always does it to further the cause of justice. Bubba Rocque has almost no redeeming qualities; he is a cruel and evil criminal. In this book, good wins out in the form of Dave Robicheaux and bad loses when Bubba Rocque dies. However, James Lee Burke lets the reader know that justice does not come without a cost to someone.

Dave Robicheaux was once a police officer in New Orleans. He drank too much then and sometimes bent the laws of the state to make sure that justice was done. He was suspended from the New Orleans police force for a period of time, and then he moved back to his home town to retire from the force, determined to stay out of law enforcement. With his wife, he opens a bait and boat rental business. He tries as hard as he can to give up Louisiana police work completely, but when his wife is murdered he has no choice but to investigate. His need to make sure that the laws of the state are upheld and to see the mystery of his wifeís death solved gets him into trouble with a childhood acquaintance, the criminal named Bubba Rocque. Rocqueís dangerous associates and his equally reckless wife add to the problems faced by Robicheaux in his quest for justice in the courts and in his own mind.

Annie is Dave Robicheauxís second wife. They have only been married a year when the novel opens. Annie is content to live the peaceful life she has with Robicheaux in New Iberia. She does her best to keep Robicheaux sane, sober, and away from anyone with any ties to crime or crime‑solving. At one point, Robicheaux tells us that Annie is "kind and loving and every morning she made me feel that some how I was a gift in her life rather than the other way around." (p.33) Unfortunately, Annieís connection to Robicheaux ultimately results in her death.

Bubba Rocque grew up in New Iberia with Dave Robicheaux. As a child, he was poor and dirty. When he grew older, he was a Golden Gloves boxer. Robicheaux has heard and believes that Rocque plays a role in drug smuggling in Louisianna. When a plane crashes near New Iberia, Robicheaux and his wife rescue a little girl whom they name Alafair and take her into their home. Robicheaux believes that Rocque and his criminal friends have something to do with the plane crash and that it is drug related. When Dave starts investigating and reverting to his role as police officer and seeker of justice, he puts himself and his newly‑formed family in grave danger.

In the novel, Robicheaux loses his wife because he asks questions about the criminal underworld in both New Orleans and New Iberia. He refuses to let Annieís death become meaningless, and he pursues her killers to the final resolution. Rocque dies, but Robicheaux lives to raise his and Annieís daughter, Alafair, and makes sure that justice is done. In Heavenís Prisoners, James Lee Burke makes it very clear that what is right is right and what is wrong, legally and morally, is wrong. Justice prevails, but a price must be paid for it. In this novel, the character who represents the idea of justice, Dave Robicheaux, pays for it with his wifeís life and his own happiness.