In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (Dave Robicheaux Series #6)

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (Dave Robicheaux Series #6)

by James Lee Burke


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The filming of a Civil War movie forces Dave Robicheaux to confront demons that stand in the way of his salvation.

When Hollywood invades New Iberia Parish to film a Civil War epic, restless specters waiting in the shadows for Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux are reawakened—ghosts of a history best left undisturbed. Hunting a serial killer preying on the lawless young, Robicheaux comes up close and personal with the elusive guardians of his darkest torments—who hold the key to his ultimate salvation…or a final, fatal downfall.

In this “entertaining, satisfying, thought-provoking” (The Baltimore Sun) Dave Robicheaux mystery, James Lee Burke explores new narrative territory with qualified success, leading his Cajun detective into a series of dreamlike encounters with a troop of Confederate soldiers under General John Bell Hood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982100315
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 11/27/2018
Series: Dave Robicheaux Series , #6
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 442,183
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He’s authored thirty-six novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.


New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana

Date of Birth:

December 5, 1936

Place of Birth:

Houston, Texas


B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960

Read an Excerpt

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead

  • THE SKY HAD gone black at sunset, and the storm had churned inland from the Gulf and drenched New Iberia and littered East Main with leaves and tree branches from the long canopy of oaks that covered the street from the old brick post office to the drawbridge over Bayou Teche at the edge of town. The air was cool now, laced with light rain, heavy with the fecund smell of wet humus, night-blooming jasmine, roses, and new bamboo. I was about to stop my truck at Del’s and pick up three crawfish dinners to go when a lavender Cadillac fishtailed out of a side street, caromed off a curb, bounced a hubcap up on a sidewalk, and left long serpentine lines of tire prints through the glazed pools of yellow light from the street lamps.

    I was off duty, tired, used up after a day of searching for a nineteen-year-old girl in the woods, then finding her where she had been left in the bottom of a coulee, her mouth and wrists wrapped with electrician’s tape. Already I had tried to stop thinking about the rest of it. The medical examiner was a kind man. He bagged the body before any news people or family members got there.

    I don’t like to bust drunk drivers. I don’t like to listen to their explanations, watch their pitiful attempts to affect sobriety, or see the sheen of fear break out in their eyes when they realize they’re headed for the drunk tank with little to look forward to in the morning except the appearance of their names in the newspaper. Or maybe in truth I just don’t like to see myself when I look into their faces.

    But I didn’t believe this particular driver could make it another block without ripping the side off a parked car or plowing the Cadillac deep into someone’s shrubbery. I plugged my portable bubble into the cigarette lighter, clamped the magnets on the truck’s roof, and pulled him to the curb in front of the Shadows, a huge brick, white-columned antebellum home built on Bayou Teche in 1831.

    I had my Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department badge opened in my palm when I walked up to his window.

    “Can I see your driver’s license, please?”

    He had rugged good looks, a Roman profile, square shoulders, and broad hands. When he smiled I saw that his teeth were capped. The woman next to him wore her hair in blond ringlets and her body was as lithe, tanned, and supple-looking as an Olympic swimmer’s. Her mouth looked as red and vulnerable as a rose. She also looked like she was seasick.

    “You want driver’s what?” he said, trying to focus evenly on my face. Inside the car I could smell a drowsy, warm odor, like the smell of smoke rising from a smoldering pile of wet leaves.

    “Your driver’s license,” I repeated. “Please take it out of your billfold and hand it to me.”

    “Oh, yeah, sure, wow,” he said. “I was really careless back there. I’m sorry about that. I really am.”

    He got his license out of his wallet, dropped it in his lap, found it again, then handed it to me, trying to keep his eyes from drifting off my face. His breath smelled like fermented fruit that had been corked up for a long time in a stone jug.

    I looked at the license under the street lamp.

    “You’re Elrod T. Sykes?” I asked.

    “Yes, sir, that’s who I am.”

    “Would you step out of the car, Mr. Sykes?”

    “Yes, sir, anything you say.”

    He was perhaps forty, but in good shape. He wore a light-blue golf shirt, loafers, and gray slacks that hung loosely on his flat stomach and narrow hips. He swayed slightly and propped one hand on the door to steady himself.

    “We have a problem here, Mr. Sykes. I think you’ve been smoking marijuana in your automobile.”

    “Marijuana . . . Boy, that’d be bad, wouldn’t it?”

    “I think your lady friend just ate the roach, too.”

    “That wouldn’t be good, no, sir, not at all.” He shook his head profoundly.

    “Well, we’re going to let the reefer business slide for now. But I’m afraid you’re under arrest for driving while intoxicated.”

    “That’s very bad news. This definitely was not on my agenda this evening.” He widened his eyes and opened and closed his mouth as though he were trying to clear an obstruction in his ear canals. “Say, do you recognize me? What I mean is, there’re news people who’d really like to put my ham hocks in the frying pan. Believe me, sir, I don’t need this. I cain’t say that enough.”

    “I’m going to drive you just down the street to the city jail, Mr. Sykes. Then I’ll send a car to take Ms. Drummond to wherever she’s staying. But your Cadillac will be towed to the pound.”

    He let out his breath in a long sigh. I turned my face away.

    “You go to the movies, huh?” he said.

    “Yeah, I always enjoyed your films. Ms. Drummond’s, too. Take your car keys out of the ignition, please.”

    “Yeah, sure,” he said, despondently.

    He leaned into the window and pulled the keys out of the ignition.

    “El, do something,” the woman said.

    He straightened his back and looked at me.

    “I feel real bad about this,” he said. “Can I make a contribution to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or something like that?”

    In the lights from the city park, I could see the rain denting the surface of Bayou Teche.

    “Mr. Sykes, you’re under arrest. You can remain silent if you wish, or if you wish to speak, anything you say can be used against you,” I said. “As a long-time fan of your work, I recommend that you not say anything else. Particularly about contributions.”

    “It doesn’t look like you mess around. Were you ever a Texas ranger? They don’t mess around, either. You talk back to those boys and they’ll hit you upside the head.”

    “Well, we don’t do that here,” I said. I put my hand under his arm and led him to my truck. I opened the door for him and helped him inside. “You’re not going to get sick in my truck, are you?”

    “No, sir, I’m just fine.”

    “That’s good. I’ll be right with you.”

    I walked back to the Cadillac and tapped on the glass of the passenger’s door. The woman, whose name was Kelly Drummond, rolled down the window. Her face was turned up into mine. Her eyes were an intense, deep green. She wet her lips, and I saw a smear of lipstick on her teeth.

    “You’ll have to wait here about ten minutes, then someone will drive you home,” I said.

    “Officer, I’m responsible for this,” she said. “We were having an argument. Elrod’s a good driver. I don’t think he should be punished because I got him upset. Can I get out of the car? My neck hurts.”

    “I suggest you lock your automobile and stay where you are, Ms. Drummond. I also suggest you do some research into the laws governing the possession of narcotics in the state of Louisiana.”

    “Wow, I mean, it’s not like we hurt anybody. This is going to get Elrod in a lot of trouble with Mikey. Why don’t you show a little compassion?”


    “Our director, the guy who’s bringing about ten million dollars into your little town. Can I get out of the car now? I really don’t want a neck like Quasimodo.”

    “You can go anywhere you want. There’s a pay phone in the poolroom you can use to call a bondsman. If I were you, I wouldn’t go down to the station to help Mr. Sykes, not until you shampoo the Mexican laughing grass out of your hair.”

    “Boy, talk about wearing your genitalia outside your pants. Where’d they come up with you?”

    I walked back to my truck and got in.

    “Look, maybe I can be a friend of the court,” Elrod Sykes said.


    “Isn’t that what they call it? There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? Man, I can really do without this bust.”

    “Few people standing before a judge ever expected to be there,” I said, and started the engine.

    He was quiet while I made a U-turn and headed for the city police station. He seemed to be thinking hard about something. Then he said: “Listen, I know where there’s a body. I saw it. Nobody’d pay me any mind, but I saw the dadburn thing. That’s a fact.”

    “You saw what?”

    “A colored, I mean a black person, it looked like. Just a big dry web of skin, with bones inside it. Like a big rat’s nest.”

    “Where was this?”

    “Out in the Atchafalaya swamp, about four days ago. We were shooting some scenes by an Indian reservation or something. I wandered back in these willows to take a leak and saw it sticking out of a sandbar.”

    “And you didn’t bother to report it until now?”

    “I told Mikey. He said it was probably bones that had washed out of an Indian burial mound or something. Mikey’s kind of hard-nosed. He said the last thing we needed was trouble with either cops or university archaeologists.”

    “We’ll talk about it tomorrow, Mr. Sykes.”

    “You don’t pay me much mind, either. But that’s all right. I told you what I saw. Y’all can do what you want to with it.”

    He looked straight ahead through the beads of water on the window. His handsome face was wan, tired, more sober now, resigned perhaps to a booking room, drunk-tank scenario he knew all too well. I remembered two or three wire-service stories about him over the last few years—a brawl with a couple of cops in Dallas or Fort Worth, a violent ejection from a yacht club in Los Angeles, and a plea on a cocaine-possession bust. I had heard that bean sprouts, mineral water, and the sober life had become fashionable in Hollywood. It looked like Elrod Sykes had arrived late at the depot.

    “I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” he said.

    “Dave Robicheaux.”

    “Well, you see, Mr. Robicheaux, a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them I see things. But the truth is, I see things all the time, like shadows moving around behind a veil. In my family we call it ‘touched.’ When I was a little boy, my grandpa told me, ‘Son, the Lord done touched you. He give you a third eye to see things that other people cain’t. But it’s a gift from the Lord, and you mustn’t never use it otherwise.’ I haven’t ever misused the gift, either, Mr. Robicheaux, even though I’ve done a lot of other things I’m not proud of. So I don’t care if people think I lasered my head with too many recreational chemicals or not.”

    “I see.”

    He was quiet again. We were almost to the jail now. The wind blew raindrops out of the oak trees, and the moon edged the storm clouds with a metallic silver light. He rolled down his window halfway and breathed in the cool smell of the night.

    “But if that was an Indian washed out of a burial mound instead of a colored man, I wonder what he was doing with a chain wrapped around him,” he said.

    I slowed the truck and pulled it to the curb.

    “Say that again,” I said.

    “There was a rusted chain, I mean with links as big as my fist, crisscrossed around his rib cage.”

    I studied his face. It was innocuous, devoid of intention, pale in the moonlight, already growing puffy with hangover.

    “You want some slack on the DWI for your knowledge about this body, Mr. Sykes?”

    “No, sir, I just wanted to tell you what I saw. I shouldn’t have been driving. Maybe you kept me from having an accident.”

    “Some people might call that jailhouse humility. What do you think?”

    “I think you might make a tough film director.”

    “Can you find that sandbar again?”

    “Yes, sir, I believe I can.”

    “Where are you and Ms. Drummond staying?”

    “The studio rented us a house out on Spanish Lake.”

    “I’m going to make a confession to you, Mr. Sykes. DWIs are a pain in the butt. Also I’m on city turf and doing their work. If I take y’all home, can I have your word you’ll remain there until tomorrow morning?”

    “Yes, sir, you sure can.”

    “But I want you in my office by nine A.M.”

    “Nine A.M. You got it. Absolutely. I really appreciate this.”

    The transformation in his face was immediate, as though liquified ambrosia had been infused in the veins of a starving man. Then as I turned the truck around in the middle of the street to pick up the actress whose name was Kelly Drummond, he said something that gave me pause about his level of sanity.

    “Does anybody around here ever talk about Confederate soldiers out on that lake?”

    “I don’t understand.”

    “Just what I said. Does anybody ever talk about guys in gray or butternut-brown uniforms out there? A bunch of them, at night, out there in the mist.”

    “Aren’t y’all making a film about the War Between the States? Are you talking about actors?” I looked sideways at him. His eyes were straight forward, focused on some private thought right outside the windshield.

    “No, these guys weren’t actors,” he said. “They’d been shot up real bad. They looked hungry, too. It happened right around here, didn’t it?”


    “The battle.”

    “I’m afraid I’m not following you, Mr. Sykes.”

    Up ahead I saw Kelly Drummond walking in her spiked heels and Levi’s toward Tee Neg’s poolroom.

    “Yeah, you do,” he said. “You believe when most people don’t, Mr. Robicheaux. You surely do. And when I say you believe, you know exactly what I’m talking about.”

    He looked confidently, serenely, into my face and winked with one blood-flecked eye.

  • Customer Reviews

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    In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
    dad7455 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This was the first novel I read by this author using this character. Since then I have read everything I can get my hands on. I love the setting of New Orleans. James Burke really bring out the angst of the character his battle with alcholism his relationship with those around him. I found the character to be a lonely man always fighting his demons as he trys to solve the latest mystery that seems to fall on his doorstep. All in All I highly recommend any of James Burke novels
    ChrisConway on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I really liked The Neon Rain, the first Robicheaux novel, but this one, with its supernatural element, did not quite work for me. Burke is clearly doing something ambitious and historically relevant to the modern south in this novel, but I could not suspend disbelief enough. And I'm into supernatural stuff.
    JBreedlove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    Another good Robicheaux novel. The ending was rushed but the build up was a page turner. Some Stephen King-esque ghosts of Confederate solders haunt Dave Robicheaux in his dreams as he attempts to two some gruesome murders and deal with the New Orleans mob.
    soniaandree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    I did enjoy this book very much - the bayou environment is not something I am familiar with, so it lends an air of fantastic genre to the novel. What's more, the virtual presence of a Confederate ghost does remind me of the short fictions of Ambrose Bierce (there usually are some uncanny elements in a damaged post-civil war environment). The characters are brought to the foreground, they are outlined against a quiet, Louisiana, background, and they seem more alive than what it would be for normal characters, as if they were the ones that mattered, not the plot. In any case, this book is a very good one, and I'd recommend it to anyone wanting to read about bayous and villains, or to have a taste of Ambrose Bierce's fantastic atmosphere.
    wildbill on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This is number 6 in the Dave Robicheaux series and is a very good mystery thriller. The Confederacy and the supernatural are more prominent in this book than in any others I have read by James Lee Burke. General John Bell Hood, or his ghost, makes multiple appearances in the story. One point of historical accuracy. Hood started the Civil War as the leader of the Texas brigade which was infantry not cavalry as stated in the book. That aside.The book begins with the brutal murder of a beautiful young prostitute who it is revealed later had connections with one of the primary villains Julie (Baby Feet) Balboni. In Robicheaux's youth Feet was the catcher on the high school baseball team where Robicheaux was a pitcher. The interaction between Balboni and Robicheaux is one of the main story lines of the book. Balboni has moved back to New Iberia where a movie he is backing is being made. Balboni is a prime suspect for the murder along with Michael Ducee who provides security for the movie. Ducee is also a suspect for a murder Robicheaux witnessed at 19 of a black man who was in chains.The sheriff calls for the FBI who shows up in the person of a Rosie Gomez who becomes Robicheaux's strong ally. There is an incident from Rosie's past that becomes a prominent part of the story. Then another murder occurs matching the pattern of the first and now the search is on for a serial killer.Burke keeps the action moving and Robicheaux provides the narration. It is Robicheaux's inner dialogue that separates this series from a straight forward who done it. The last 75 pages turn very quickly as the stakes are raised with the kidnapping of Alafair, Robicheax's adopted daughter.I enjoyed the book but it does not show the depth of The Tin Roof Blowdown, the most recent book in the series. Except for Rosie the female characters, especially Robicheaux's wife Bootsie, are very shallow. It shows that Burke is a good author who has improved his craft as he goes along.
    andyray on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
    This was given to me by a friend and i said to myself: "sure. like i will find someone who writes as good and as sucks me in as well as JDM. Well, this guy Burke does it, at least with the Devereux character. Maybe it's because my blood is french and indian, and i speak french, and I love the cajun music and cooking, and of the four kinds of terrain, i like the swamp the best, but no, it's more than that. i shall read more of his work.