Think the rumbustious Dave Robicheaux novels (Jolie Blon’s Bounce, p. 437, etc.) have so little mystery that they could dispense with the mystery formula altogether? Here’s a test case: a Civil War/Reconstruction yarn that’s also a fictionalized family history.
Not that Burke deprives himself of murder, from the opening execution of runaway slave Sarie Jamison by Rufus Atkins, the brutal taskmaster of Angola plantation owner Ira Jamison. On the eve of Fort Sumter 24 years later, Sarie’s (and Ira’s) daughter Flower is a laundress in New Iberia, Burke’s Yoknapatawpha. She’s been befriended by abolitionist Abigail Dowling and secretly taught to read by Willie Burke, who proves that anti-authoritarian bias of his heroes can’t be blamed on the War Between the States, since he seems to have been born mouthing off. Beginning his military career by insulting Captain Atkins, he marches off to war with his friend Jim Stubbefield. A third musketeer, pro-slavery law student Robert Perry, vanishes into the shadows while Willie and Jim face their baptism at Shiloh—an experience so harrowing that Willie moves up to insulting General Nathan Bedford Forrest before he returns home to switch from battling the Yankees to battling the likes of the White League and the Knights of the White Camellia. By then, the leading characters have long settled into roles familiar from Burke’s contemporary fiction: the idealist who can’t help picking fights (Willie), his familiar (Jim), the all-powerful Father of Darkness (Jamison), his untouchable enforcer (Atkins), the heroine whose soul provides a battleground for good and evil (Abigail), the victim whose body ditto (Flower), and their seething compatriots (everybody else).
Shorn of any mystery but the mystery of evil, this roiling, deeply old-fashioned tale is less successful as a stand-alone revisiting of The Clansman and Gone With the Wind than as a kind of all-purpose backstory—or, more accurately, a prototype—of the Robicheaux saga.