Monday, November 12, 2007

James Lee Burke

by Steven Williams
James Lee Burke color photographJames Lee Burke is an American author best known for his two mystery series featuring the Louisiana police detective Dave Robicheaux and the Texas ex-sheriff turned lawyer Billy Bob Holland. Burke was born in 1936 in Houston, Texas and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. He worked at a variety of jobs before beginning to write. His first book was published in 1965 but it was not until the 1989 success of Black Cherry Blues, notably because of his choice to meld his skills as a writer with the genre of crime fiction. The success of this novel allowed Burke to leave teaching after twenty years as an untenured and somewhat migratory English professor to become a full time writer. He is noted for his lush writing style and his preference for morally complex main characters. He now divides his year between a winter home in the New Iberia region of Louisiana and a summer ranch home in Missoula, Montana. Burke's character Dave Robicheaux lives in New Orleans is based on the writer's connections to Louisiana, where he spent summers and holidays with his father's family. The Billy Bob Holland character is Burke's connection to his mother's side of the family.

Half of Paradise (1965)
Half of Paradise by James Lee Burke front coverThe author's first novel and a critical success. This and next one raised expectations for him as an emerging, new writer. The novel is a tragic story that intertwines the lives of threeyoung men living in 1950s Louisiana and each bearing up under what life has dealt them and each hoping for redemption. One is a black longshoreman living in New Orleans who endures his co-workers' day-to-day racism while moonlighting as a prize-fighter hoping to break through to a better life. The second main character is a country musician who gets a break into showbiz but success exposes him to the descructive effects of drug addiction. The third man is the descendant of an aristocratic French family who is driven to whiskey running after he looses the last of the family's land to repossession because of his own problems with drink.

To the Bright and Shining Sun (1970)
To the Bright and Shining Sun by James Lee Burke Britsh edition front coverThe author's second novel and also critically well received. It is set in the 1960s Cumberland Mountains of Appalachia. The main character comes from a family that has worked in the coal mines for generations. The men are strong union supporters and the main character even goes to the extreme of sabotaging the mine to keep 'scabs' out. His efforts are successful but the result is even deeper poverty for the community. The young man signs up for the Jobs Corps in desperation. The jobs program provides more than work though. He is taught to read and write in addition to being prepared for a skilled trade. Despite his good fortune and an opening of the world for him, he eventually finds himself torn between a family tradition of honorable but stoic endurance and the escape offered by alcohol and seedy beer joints.

Lay Down My Sword and Shield (1971)
Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee Burke British edition front coverThe author's third novel was given very mixed reviews and represents the beginning of publishing dry spell that lasted for more than ten years. The story is set in contemporary Texas and is about a hard-drinking ex-POW and wealthy, progressive Democrat. He feels intimidated by the reputation of his ancestors and a run for congress leads to a growing series of conflicts with people he has always known. The final straw is his unwitting involvement in a violent civil rights conflict. This acts as a catalyst for his complete reassessment of his life.

Two for Texas (1982)
Two for Texas by James Lee Burke front coverA historical novel about the Texas Revolution. The story begins in Louisiana where main character is sent to a penal camp. He is determined to escape but ends up killing a man to do so. After Two for Texas starring Kris Kristoffersen and Scott Bairstowescaping, he runs to Texas accompaniedby an Amerindian woman and a fellow prisoner. As the trio make their way they end up in the middle of the battle for the Alamo. This book was made in to a film starring Kris Kristoffersen and Scott Bairstow.

The Convict and Other Stories (1985)
The Convict and Other Stories by James Lee Burke British edition front coverA collection of nine short stories placed in settings along the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Texas as well as battlefields as distant as Korea and Vietnam. They all involve rugged, conflicted Southern men and Burke uses their stories to explore themes important to him such as loss and hard-won courage, betrayal and friendship, violence and heroism, and the inveitability of death.

The Lost Get-Back Boogie (1986)
The Lost Get-Back Boogie by James Lee Burke front coverThis novel is set in the 1960s and the main character is a Korean War veteran and Blues singer who has just been released from a Louisiana prison farm where he has served two years on a manslaughter charge. Parole is not easy for him and he turns desperately to drink. In an effort to try to make the adjustment to straignt life prevent a return to jail he heads west to the ranch of a firend, ex-con, and fellow prisoner. This book was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The Neon Rain (1987)
Neon Rain by James Lee Burke front coverBurke's sixth novel and his first novel featuring Dave Robicheaux, a New Orleans homicide detective. Robicheaux loves fishing and while fishing on a rural bayou, he finds the body of a young prostitute. This chance discovery draws him into a tangled web of Mafia, Nicaraguan drug dealers, federal Treasury agents and retired ex-military generals, all involved in a scheme to smuggle arms to the Nicaraguan contras. He feels driven to investigate the case himself and disdovers that both the police andthe crooks want the case left alone. Robicheaux finds himself framed and on the run. In this novel, Burke has created an enduring character, a Cajun who lives on a houseboat, is a recovering alcoholic, and at adrift emotionally because of the loss of his wife's love. It has become a trademark of Burke's style that he captures the atmosphere of high and low life New Orleans as well as utilizing a character of rich human and moral complexity.

Heaven's Prisoners (1988)
Heaven's Prisoners by James Lee Burke front coverThis is Burke's second mystery featuring the New Orleans homicide detective Dave Robicheaux. Robicheaux has turned in his badge and is finally winning his battle with alcohol. With his wife, he leaves New Orleans for a life in the baouy country of Louisiana running a bait and boat rental business. He and his wife witness a plane crash in the nearby Gulf in which four obviously illegal immigrants die. They rescue a young, terrified, illegal immigrant girl. When the newspapers report that three others died in the crash but Robicheaux knows there were four deaths, the film version of Heaven's Prisoners starring Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheauxhe decides go check it out. This draws him into a web of murder, deception, and crime. Robicheaux finds himself confronting a brutal hood who also happens to be a childhood acquaintance as well as the hood's wife, and a federal agent with plenty of courage but not much common sense. When Robicheaux's wife becomes a victim of the resulting violence, he finds himself in constant danger from his own deep guild and depression as well as the threat of federal agents who seem to be cooperating with drug runners. With this book, Burke continues develope his style of rich retional setting and complex characterization in which his main character's high integrity clashes with the darker reality of human nature This book was translated into a film by the same title and starring Alec Baldwin as Dave Robicheaux.

Black Cherry Blues (1989)
Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke front coverBurke's third Dave Robicheaux mystery. As the story begins Robicheaux is trying to keep his life together. There is his fishing business to keep going, caring for the young orphan girl who has been made his ward, and his need to come to terms with his wife's violent death, all of which gives new power to his old nemisis, alcoholism. A pursuing psychopath causes Robicheaux to try to start a new life with his ward in the Blackfoot River Canyon country of Montana. Once there, he finds himself in the middle of an illegal Mafia takeover of Amerindian land and then he becomes the main suspect in the series of related killings. Robicheaux finds himself forced to conduct his own investigation in order to both protect his young ward and prove his own innocense. To complicate matters, he finds himself involved with his ex-partner's girlfriend. This book is a winner of prestiguous Edgar Award for best mystery novel.

A Morning for Flamingos (1990)
A Morning for Flamingos by James Lee Burke front coverThe fourth Dave Robicheaux mystery by Burke. Dave Robicheaux has rejoined the New Iberia police force. He is wounded and his partner killed while transporting two death-row prisoners. In pursuit of the killer, he returns to New Orleans with a job running a sting operation for the DEA. At the same time he is working to incriminate a local drug lord, he is pursuing the killer's trail deep into the heart of the city's underworld. The undercover work turns out to be surprisingly seductive though, and Robicheaux finds himself sympathetic with a dealer he is trying to incriminate in order to reach the DEA tartet. The dealer is ex-Marine with nightmares and a drug habit from Vietnam and he also seems to mirror Robicheaux's own internal struggles. Into this mix of increasingly conflicted feelings is thrown a juju woman and also an old true love who happens to now be the widow of a Mafioso.

A Stained White Radiance (1992)
A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke front coverThe fifth Dave Robicheaux mystery. Robicheaux finds himself drawn into the lives of the Sonnier family, a family whole children are his contemporaries and who he grew up around near the bayous. The problem begins with the death of a cop and an assassination attempt on one notorious family member who is both an oil speculator as well as probably being involved in the New Orleans mafia. To complicate matters, the intended victim is married to the sister of a racist Louisiana politician, his sister is a former love of Robicheaux, and another brother is a televangelist known for his healing 'gift'. Robicheaux is sympathetic to the siblings, in part, because they were harshly abused as children. His desire to help them ends up pitting him and a former police department partner against a fierce local Mafia leader and his thugs. In the process of his work, Robicheaux uncovers long-buried secrets Sinnier siblings involving madness, murder, and incest in what becomes a violent story of crime and revenge both inside and outside the law.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993)
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee BurkeThe author's sixth Dave Robicheaux mystery. Deputy Sherriff Robicheaux and his new police partner in the New Ibearian police force find themselves hunting a sadistic killer who goes after young prostitutes. Complicating matters are an ex-schoolmate mobster's involvement in the money backing a Civil War movie being filmed in the area at the same time. Robicheaux becomes involved with the filming through a chance arrest of an actor for DYI, which leads to the revelation that the film crew has discovered a skeleton in the bayou. This chance discovery of a thirty-five year old racially motivated killing Robicheaus had actually witnesssed but said nothing about ends up being the crucial link to the rest of the story. The old murder, a Civil War general, the ex-schoolmate mobster movie backer, and the serial killer Robicheaux is seeking are all revealed as having connections. Robicheaux is at first drawn away from pursuing the serial killer by his own guilt over the older murder and his desire to expunge these feelings by uncovering the truth about it. When one of the actors is shot, Robicheaux Tommy Lee Jones color photographrealizes that the bullet may have been intended for him and his investigation into what happened begins leading him back to the ex-schoolmate mobster movie backer. Robicheaux is aided in his hunt by, among others, a supposedly psychic actor and a FBI agent and, with their help, he is gradually is able to connect the recent horrific serial killer murders with the old murder as well as connecting them with the ex-schoolmate mobster. This novel is notable for Burke's use of visions of Confederate General John Bell Hood by Robicheaux through which Robicheaux is provided important if elusive advice about the crimes. This book has been translated into the film 'Into the Electric Mist' due for January, 2008 release and starring Tommy Lee Jones as Dave Robicheaux and Levon Helm as General John Bell Hood.

Dixie City Jam (1994)
Dixie City Jam by James Lee Burke front coverThe seventh Dave Robicheaux novel by Burke. As a boy, Robicheaux once found a World War II German U-boat sunk during ago off the Louisiana coast near New Iberia. A local drugstore mogul offers Robicheaux a seeming large reward for finding the sub again, supposedly only for its salvage value. Robicheaux is at first reluctant but changes his mind and even negotiates a larger fee, intent on using the money to beat a bum murder rap for a series of murders of New Orleans drug dealers laid on his hired hand by a vindictive New Orleans vice cop who has a grudge against Robicheaux and one of his friends, an ex-police private eye. Robicheaux's pursuit of the sunken wrick attracts the attention neo-Nazi psychopathic sadist who wants the sub for himself and procedes to terrorize Robicheaux's wife and kidnap and torture Robicheaux while repeatedly disappearing after executing his accomplices. Added to this is complex is the racial and gender politics within the New Orleans police force which end drawing Robicheaux into the lives of a black woman cop and her teenage son. Robicheaux must figure out the best way to nail the bad guys, avoid selling out, and hopefully stay alive.

Burning Angel (1995)
Burning Angel by James Lee Burke front coverJames Lee Burke's eighth Dave Robicheaux mystery. A New Orleans street hustler once had set himself up against the local Giacano family lock on illegal activities in the New Orleans area. He returns from hiding in Central America to entrust Detective Dave Robicheaux with a mysterious notebook. This sets off a series of violent acts including the murder of the hustler's girlfriend, and all this seems to be connected in some way to a land dispute. The dispute is between a sharecropper family's descendents who have held the land for about 100 years and one or more interested parties. One of these interested parties who want the property very badly is a mysterious right-wing group which seems to believe that the land might contain some of Jean Laffite's treasure. The local Mafia also seems to want the land for some reason also. Robicheaux's involvement in the land dispute puts him at risk from the local mobsters and their hired assassin and this seems to link back to the hustler and his mysterious notebook. Some quasisupernatural elements add to Burke's typically atmospheric writing about New Orleans, its underworld, and the dark legacies of the South.

Cadillac Jukebox (1996)
Cadillac Jukebox by James Lee Burke front coverThis is Burke's ninth Dave Robicheaux mystery. Robicheaux begins receiving mysterious calls from an ex-Klansman recently sentenced to forty years in prison for the 1960s shooting of the most famous black civil rights leader in Louisiana. The incarcerated killer claims he is innocent and asks Robicheaux to help him. This piques Robicheaux interest, especially after he is approached by a gubanatorial candidate, the liberal scion of an old Southern family and the author of the book that contributed to the murderer's conviction, wants Detective Robicheaux to ignore these calls in the hopes of using events to be elected. He sweetens this request with the promise of a lucrative job for Robicheaux as head of the state police once he is elected governor. To complicate matters, the politician's wife and Robicheaux's former lover, seems interested in getting very close to Robicheaux again. Robicheaux grows increasingly curious as to why so many people want the convicted murderer left where he is. The question about whether the conviction was valid becomes more complex with the brutal execution of two filmmakers interested in making a movie about the 1960s murder case, the appearance of a ghoulish hit man from the swamps begins to silence police informants, warnings to Bobicheaux to back off from a mob-related fiture, and the connection of the politician's family to a Mexican drug ring. Once the convicted murderer escapes, swearing vengeance on govenor, Robicheaux ends up being required to provide protection for Louisiana's First Family and ends up uncovering a thirty-year-old web of revenge, ambition, and blackmail.

Cimarron Rose (1997)
Cimarron Rose by James Lee Burke paperback front coverThis is Burke's first Billy Bob Holland. His main character, Holland, is an ex-Texas Ranger attorney in a dusty West Texas town. Holland left the Rangers after accidently killing his partner during a drug bust. He is drawn out of his self-involved brooding when his dead partner's son, who happens to also be both Holland's illegitimate son as well as his estranged stepson, is accused of the rape and murder of a local party girl. Holland's has a hunch that his stepson is being railroaded. The case quickly becomes more complicated than anticipated when, while awaiting arraignment in jail, the sixteen-year-old young man overhears gruesome tales of serial murderer from a neighbouring cell. Enquiry into the case becomes increasingly difficult pitting Holland against sadistic cops, a powerful local family, and a local thug with something to hide. Luckily, the folks on his team are just as tough. Holland discovers that there is DEA investigation of the town's police. There is also the fact that children of wealthy local families were with the young man and the dead girl on the night the murder was supposed to occur. There is also his father's role in the life of a serial killer who apparently is now in town. Burke continues to utilize quasisupernatural elements by having Holland's dead ex-partner frequently visit him. This book is a winner of prestiguous Edgar Award for best mystery novel.

Sunset Limited (1998)
Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke front coverThe tenth Dave Robicheaux mystery. The story revolves around investigations by Robicheaux and his police partner into an unsolved, forty-year-old murder of a union organizer. A constellation of seemingly unrelated events begin to come up. These include revealations about the existance of crooked money behind a movie directed by the murdered man's son, the hold that an ex-con appears to have on the director's photojournalist sister, a major theft from a mob-owned warehouse, the suicide of the warehouse thief's wife twenty years earler, the shooting of two white brothers who raped a black woman, an alcoholic woman's haunted childhood, her wealthy arrogant father's ties to a vicious murderer, and the post-Civil War killing by freed slaves of a servant in Terrebonne Parish. Robicheaux and his partner eventually uncover nature of the linkage between all of these seemingly disparate events, but Robicheaux is sobered by the fact that he knows the worst criminals wield too much wealth and influence to pay any of their crimes. This book is a winner of the Crime Writers of America Gold Dagger award.

Heartwood (1999)
Heartwood by James Lee Burke front coverThis is Burke's second Billy Bob Holland mystery. A local boy made good is not ready to share his good luck with anyone else. The story hinges on his efforts to threaten an ex-rodeo star hired hand to hand over his wife's property, an oil-rich parcel in Wyoming. Lawyer ex-Ranger Holland decides to stand up for the retired rodeo rider against the corrupting influence of big money when the rodeo rider is accused of stealing a fortune in bearer bonds from his wealthy boss's family. The investigation supporting the defense reveals that the wealthy man has apparently been involved in questionable and even violent business practices for some time but his marriage to Hollands old high-school sweetheart creates even more complications for Holland. He is hesitant to wound her by exposing the truth about her husband's brutal background which includes arranging false arrests, arson, and murder of one of his own employees. This employee was an accountant who appeared to have been about to challenge his boss's story regarding reputed theft of bearer bonds but who is instead mysteriuosly murdered by gang bangers. Holland's investigation reveals that the San Antonio gang is actually the power behind a local gang and that it is allied with the wealthy man. Contributing to the stress of the case are Holland's ongoing relationship with his dead ex-partner, his illegitimate son's growing pains, and the possibly staged murder of the wealthy man's pilot by the ex-rodeo stars blind wife.

Purple Cane Road (2000)
Purple Cane Road by James Lee Burke front coverIn Burke's eleventh Dave Robicheaux mystery, his main character takes on an investigation of the murder of his own mother. He had always thought that his mother had run out on him and his alcoholic father in 1967. During a shakedown, a local pimp instead tells Robicheaux that his mother was murdered outside a New Orleans nightclub by two cops and that he has details about the killing to trade. She apparently was a whore in her last days, before being killed by two cops in the pay of the Giacano crime family. Before the pimp can pass on his secrets though, he ends up murdered himself, the first of a string of murders by a genius psychopath. The encounter prompts Robicheaux to try to unravela a conspiracy involving several New Orleans cops, a conniving state attorney general, and a genius psychopath. The pimp's murderer, a melancholy, hyperactive out-of-town trigger-man, has learned that the pimp had some information just before the killing, though he does not know the details either he still decides to appoint himself Robicheaux's guardian angel while at the same time ingratiating himself with Robicheaux's teenaged stepdaughter. Robicheaux despises the hitman's help but realizes he will need to rely on it for a while because he realizes that the trail is following will end up antagonizing every law officer in Louisiana. This book was shortlisted for the Macallan Gold Dagger Award.

Bitterroot (2001)
Bitterroot by James Lee Burke front coverThis is Burke's third Billy Bob Holland mystery. Holland is invited by an old friend, a retired doctor Vietnam vet and recent widower, for an invitation to visit him in Montana and get in some fly fishing. This widower friend has a hidden agenda though. He has managed to alienate everyone in town by mount a opposing a mining venture that he has reason to believe will be an disaster for the local economy as well as the desrtoer of the majestic local countryside. The enemies list inlude the mining interests as well as a drug-running biker gang, an enclave of white supremacists, the local mob connection, and even the feds. Doc's daughter has been raped by three of the bikers and lather these three are found murdered in a particularly nasty fashion. Holland ends up trying to clear his friend of suspicion for the murders. Unfortunately, a major complication emerges in the person of a psychopathic ex-con who holds Holland responsible for his sister's death, and who has followed him to Montana.

Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002)
Jolie Blons Bounce by James Lee Burke front coverThe author's twelfth mystery featuring Dave Robicheaux. A Cajun blues singer is accused of two murders, both brutal rape-homicides. One victum is a drug-addled prostitute and the other is a pretty young teenage girl. Robicheaux believes the drug-addicted musician accused of the crime is innocent but proving this sets him against a vicious ex-overseer of a Louisiana plantation whose reach seems to give him almost supernatural powers. The old overseer looks to Robicheaux like the most likely murderer but when he goes after the man, he receives such a humiliating and ferocious beating from the seventy-five year old man that he reverts to alcohol and addictive painkillers. To complicate matters, the murdered prostitute turns out to be the daughter of a local mafioso who sets out to wreck his vengence on the supposed killer.

White Doves at Morning (2002)
White Doves at Morning by James Lee Burke front coverA historical novel set in Louisiana during the years 1861 to 1868. The novel tells a fictionalized story of two of the author's own ancestors, a hotheaded, idealistic son of Irish immigrants and his best friend, the scion of a Southern aristocratic family. Both young men are in love with the same Massachusetts abolitionist woman and both join the Confederate army to defend their country. Another important character is a beautiful slave girl who is his friend and who he has secretly taught to read and write. She is the unacknowledged illegitimate daughter of the aristocratic owner of a notoriously brutal plantation. Her own mother was murdered by an overseer at the plantation just after giving birth to the baby girl and the overseer continues to be a malevolent presence in her life. The young idealist is severly wounded and his best friend killed as a result of the aristocrat's cowardice. Rescued by the abolitionist woman who is also a nurse, he is brought back home to recover. After his strength returns, the young idealist his sense of duty prompts him to return to the army. Unfortunately, he is captured as a prisoner of war while enroute but he escapes at the end of the war. The cowardly aristocrat returns after the war and remakes his former plantation into a penal colony from which he can rent out prisoners as laborers to replace the emancipated slaves. After the war ends, the ex-slave girl starts her own school for ex-slaves, convinced that self-improvement is essential for the emancipated slaves. In the end it is the young idealist, after returning home, finds himself confronting white supremecists vigilantes who are outraged over the school for ex-slaves and intent on destroying it.

Last Car to Elysian Fields (2003)
Last Car to Elysian Fields by James Lee Burke front coverThe thirteenth Dave Robicheaux suspense novel by Burke. In this novel, Robicheaux's second wife has died from lupus, his daughter has left home for college, and his bayou home has burned to the ground. He is grieving and rootless and all too ready to he take on the troubles of others, in this case a cast that includes an outspoken New Orleans priest marked for murder, a black blues singer who entered Angola Prison in 1950 and then disappeared, and the grief-stricken father of a teenager whose daughter was killed in a drunk-driving accident. The New Orleans priest is an old friend and his brutal beating draws Robicheux back to New Orleans where he enlists the aid of an old friend who works as a private eye. Their efforts are rewarded with jail for one of them and a warning to Robicheaux to keep his nose out of New Orleans affairs. The blues singer, who disappeared in the 1940s, allows Burke to recreate the horrors of the legendary Louisiana prison farms (i.e., I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang). The teenage girl killed in the alcohol-related accident died along with two other teenagers after all three were served illegally at a drive-by dacquiri stand. Robicheaux tracks down the dacquiri stand operator responsible, and shortly afterword the owner of the drive-through operation is brutally murdered leaving the grief-stricken father as the most obvious suspect. This assumption falls apart when the murder weapon turns out to belong to someone else. The entangling web of secrets and violence is tied together with the story of the disappeared blues singer when the puzzle is topped off with a maniacally complex assassin.

In the Moon of Red Ponies (2004)
The fourth Billy Bob Holland mystery by Burke. A rodeo cowboy sentenced to sixty years in jail for murder, is released out after only a year because of a prosecutation error. Though the ex-felon claims he is a changed man, a born-again Christian, ex-Texas In the Moon of Red Ponies by James Lee Burke front coverRanger attorney Holland remembers what the man did to Holland's wife and wonders if that much change is possible. Complicating matters is the case of an Amerindian activist caught illegallly carrying a gun which he claims he is carrying because of a warning dream that a short time seems to prove true. The Amerindian activist is accused with the murder of two unknown men who apparently hit men sent to kill the activist. The Amerindian activist is also accused of mastermininding the burglary and theft of computer files from a federal research lab. Things begin to heat up when Holland finds out that a federal agent is very interested in this relatively obscure murder case. Add to this the Amerindian activist involvement with the daughter of a vindictive, bigoted, and powerful US senator, an ex-war hero and former mercenary pilot sheriff's deputy who is also unhealthily infatuated with the senator's daughter, and a suspicious CEO of the company that owns the burglarized research lab and obviously something bad is brewing. When Holland looks into the possibility of unknown reasons for the attempt on the life of the Amerindian activist, he uncovers a threat to himself and his family.

Crusader's Cross (2005)
Crusaders Cross by James Lee Burke front coverBurke's fourteenth Dave Robicheaux mystery. The story begins in the summer of 1958. Robicheaux and his half-brother have just graduated from high school when they get work with an oil company. That summer in Galveston they meet a sweet-faced young female musician. His half-brother falls in love with with the girl not knowing she was a prostitute from the infamous Post Office Street, with ties to the mob. The young couple plan to meet at at the bus depot and escape together to Mexico but she never shows up. Forty years later Robicheaux enters Baptist Hospital in New Iberia to visit a childhood friend who has lead a terrible life and wants to unburden himself of a terrible secret before he dies. As a kid he briefly saw a young prostitute beaten and tied to a chair in his uncle's house. Robicheaux is at loose ends and so rejoins the New Iberia sheriff's department when the Sheriff asks him to help out with a string of murders. While Robicheaux and his former police partner now private eye pursue the case, they encounter a range of villains whose activities demand retribution. It turns out that there is a serial killer on the loose with links all the way back to the young prostitute's disappearance. Robicheaux is warnd off of the case by a couple of redneck deputy sheriffs. At about the same time a member of a powerful New Orleans mob family and his sister make an appearance. Complications are topped off with Robicheaux's involvement in a scandalous relationship with an unusual Catholic nun.

Pegasus Descending (2006)
Pegasus Descending by James Lee Burke front coverThe fifteenth of Burke's Dave Robicheaux mysteries. Robicheaux has left his drinking days far behind him but he still carries the guilt events that are tied to this addiction. Twenty-five years earlier he was not sober enough to protect a good friend and fellow Vietnam veteran from being murdered over gambling debts. Into Robicheaux's new life comes his dead gambler friend's daughter who immediately begins to pass counterfeit one hundred-dollar bills in the local casinos and keep odd company, seemingly with the intent of baiting the aging mobster responsible for her father's murder. What may possibly be the staged suicide of a young local 'good girl' seems to connect with what is going on also. Robicheaux's digging around into both the old murder and the recent suicide brings him to the attention of two rich and politically powerful criminals, each wanting to protect their sons from trouble.

Jesus Out to Sea: Stories (2007)
Jesus Out to Sea: Stories by James Lee Burke front coverA strong collection of eleven previuosly published short stories stories. They all deal with themes and places familiar to readers of Burke's other fiction. "The Village" is a Vietnam War story describes the inevitable reality of atrocity during war. The title story "Jesus Out to Sea," one of two stories in the collection dealing with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, is used by Burke to show the enduring psychological damage war has on survivors. Two other stories in the collection, "Winter Light" and "A Season of Regret," are about characters who are both loners who are each disillusioned and stoical academics trying to cope with an encroaching crude popular culture. There are several coming-of-age stories. One with an especially surprising ending, "Texas City, 1947" is about the brutalization of children. The other two, "The Molester" and "The Burning of the Flag," are set in the early 1940s and involve their main characters'confronting the potential demons within every person.

The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007)
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke front coverBurke's most recent mystery is his sixteenth Dave Robicheaux story. In anticipation of the landing of Hurricane Katrina two supposed looters are shot in a wealthy neighborhood and a motley group of villans begins to converge on a cache of stolen diamonds at the same time that the hurricane Katrina passes, turning New Orleans into a lawless wasteland. Robicheaux is deployed to New Orleans to investigate the shooting of the two looters. He discovers that they were killed while ransacking the home of New Orlean's most powerful mobster. It turns out there were three looters though and Robicheaux needs to find him before the killers do. To complicate matters, Robicheaux is also intent on discovering what has happened to a priest who disappeared in the Ninth Ward while trying to rescue his trapped parishioners. As a backdrop to the story is New Orleans descent into an apocalyptical nightmare peopled by looters and predators.

Newer Article: Paulette Jiles, Missouri poet and writer


Older Article: Michael Hoeye's Hermux Tantamoq adventures

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James Lee Burke, a mystery novel craftsman with New Orleans connections by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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