James Lee Burke: A Great American Crime Writer
Burke's Life...Click thumbnail to view full-size
New Orleans: Great pickings for a crime writer
.Not much pleasure in reviewing books, so this scribe rarely attempts the task...and if it's boring writing it, it surely must be worse reading it. It's not going to happen herein; the idea of this humble article is to put the spotlight of critical aclaim on an American Author whom many say is the best in his - and perhaps any - writing field in the United States today.
As some readers may know, this recorder is a great fan of US crime and detective fiction. In an earlier article, attention was drawn to the most effective heroes - the protagonists - starring in some fiction series. They included Jack Reacher, Lee Child's super hero, a sort of cross between superman and Jesus Christ, a six-foot-six powerhouse who can climb any villain in a single bound, and...you get the picture.
Then deadly, silent, Joe Pike and wisecracking sidekick Elvis Cole, the two stalwart PI detectives in Robert Crais' novels.
And Michael Connelley's phlegmatic Harry Bosch, perhaps one of the most believable lawman because of his fragility as well as nouse. Bosch is brave and determined but rarely fights or uses his guns.
Then the pair who appear in many of the publications by James Lee Burke. One is police detective lieutenant Dave Robicheaux, often aided and abetted by the gargatuan, obese Cletus (Clete) Purcell, a figure resembling a cross between Pancho Villa and Shrek!
Neither of these two would probably win in a make-believe one-on-one contest with, say, Jack Reacher, or Joe Pike, but their efforts are much more true to life and carried along by the wonderful prose/poetry from Burke.
The background in most of Burke's books is Louisiana from New Orleans to New Iberia, where Robicheaux has his boat and bait business - a constant that pays his way during the times he gets chucked out of the police force for his methods, as Clete says, of "Taking it to them under a black flag," or "Spitting in the lion's mouth," where legally arresting a bad dude is trumped by the more radical approach of Clete drowning them in a toilet bowl, or blowing them away with Robicheaux's .45!
The sad, all too real, constant through the series is Robicheaux's alcoholism and his efforts to stay clean in AA, while Clete downs the beer and shots and becomes more Shrek-like by the minute.
Their adventures are legion and colorful, full of the place names, history and the people with the vital characteristics of the Cajuns, or the southern blacks. From the Mafia - to the old landed families turned criminals - Robicheaux and Purcell, "The Bobbsy Twins from Homicide," act out convoluted scenes trying to bring them to civil - or rough - justice. They are often beaten up, drugged, kidnapped, stabbed and shot and have more scar tissue than a Humpback Whale - a beast Clete resembles.
This writer has read Burke's books again and again - and again. In fact, these days this couple of hundred book collection of thrillers holds this escapist in thrall without needing an influx of new blood. Do many on Hubpages also do this? Burke's prose, in particular, is so in depth and filled with images, the books seem new each visit...Let us know in comments.
As Burke writes, Southern Louisiana, along with Montana he visits (he actually lives in both ), come to life: the people and their ancestors, the creole music and food, the 19th. Century and Colonial architecture and the names and dialogue, in a way which will fascinate any lover of this genre - or any genre in fact.
So this is more a review of the author than his books. They are all good; try to buy one that features Robicheaux and Purcell. You might well begin with "The Tin Roof Blowdown," where the two detectives (Purcell is private) are enmeshed in a great fiction novel that also brings the suffering during Hurricane Katrina to life in the most revealing and saddening way. For me, living in the UK and not getting the detailed news of this murderous flood, the mainly factual account had me mesmerized, and Katrina must rate as one of the world's most terrifying disasters.
But I'll let this great novel bring these grim days in US history to life again. James Lee Burke is the distinguished author of some 30 top rated books, of which Robicheaux and Purcell feature in 20. He has won award after award and, in his early 70's, is still turning out great prose. His fictional daughter, Alafair (also his daughter of the same name in real life, a writer now herself) figures in most of his books, as do three wives and several girl friends.
So, reader, "This is Mr James Lee Burke," he is a writer you should know and will surely remember.
To see a list of Burke's books or read more about the author, below is his official website