Sunday, July 11, 2010

Currently reading: THE GLASS RAINBOW by James Lee Burke

Over the weekend I have been reading an advance copy of the 18th and latest Dave Robicheaux novel from mystery writing supremo James Lee Burke. I actually have a few other important things to do this weekend, but keep finding myself pulled back to read a few more pages of Burke's latest Louisiana-set Robicheaux adventure.

I understand THE GLASS RAINBOW is just about to be released in the United States, but it is not officially published here in New Zealand until next month. Here's the summary from the author's web site:

"James Lee Burke’s eagerly awaited new novel finds Detective Dave Robicheaux back in New Iberia, Louisiana, and embroiled in the most harrowing and dangerous case of his career. Seven young women in neighboring Jefferson Davis Parish have been brutally murdered. While the crimes have all the telltale signs of a serial killer, the death of Bernadette Latiolais, a high school honor student, doesn’t fit: she is not the kind of hapless and marginalized victim psychopaths usually prey upon. Robicheaux and his best friend, Clete Purcel, confront Herman Stanga, a notorious pimp and crack dealer whom both men despise. When Stanga turns up dead shortly after a fierce beating by Purcel, in front of numerous witnesses, the case takes a nasty turn, and Clete’s career and life are hanging by threads over the abyss.

Adding to Robicheaux’s troubles is the matter of his daughter, Alafair, on leave from Stanford Law to put the finishing touches on her novel. Her literary pursuit has led her into the arms of Kermit Abelard, celebrated novelist and scion of a once prominent Louisiana family whose fortunes are slowly sinking into the corruption of Louisiana’s subculture. Abelard’s association with bestselling ex-convict author Robert Weingart, a man who uses and discards people like Kleenex, causes Robicheaux to fear that Alafair might be destroyed by the man she loves. As his daughter seems to drift away from him, he wonders if he has become a victim of his own paranoia. But as usual, Robicheaux’s instincts are proven correct and he finds himself dealing with a level of evil that is greater than any enemy he has confronted in the past."

I have read, enjoyed and admired James Lee Burke's writing for almost a decade now. Often, when I find myself defending the quality of crime writing vis a vis literary fiction, he is one of the authors I turn to, using him as an example of how crime writing can be lyrical, evocative, and have a way with words. I was fortunate enough to interview James Lee Burke by telephone from his Montana summer home, on Friday morning NZT. It was a real honour to talk to him for an hour, about everything from his Robicheaux series, to artistry in writing, to how Louisiana is a microcosm of everything that is going in the United States, and the wider world, politics, history, literature... He is incredibly humble and down to earth, interesting and intriguing, and laughs easily and often (explosively at times). I will be writing a large feature for the Weekend Herald on Burke to time with the NZ release of THE GLASS RAINBOW, and will republish that here. I also asked him the 9mm quickfire questions, so keep an eye out for them.

In the meantime, you can read my Crime Fiction Alphabet post on James Lee Burke here.

Have you read THE GLASS RAINBOW? Or any of James Lee Burke's other books? What do you think? Are you a fan of crime novels set in the US southern states? Have you seen the Dave Robicheaux movies? Thoughts and comments welcome.


  1. Craig - I'm glad you're enjoying The Glass Rainbow. I agree with you that James Lee Burke's writing can, indeed, be lyrical and evocative, too. I look forward to reading your interview with him!

  2. I'm a big fan of JLB's work. I point to him also when the question of quality writing in crime fiction rises. Not only is his writing lyrical and evocative, as you point out, but his use of symbolism and the subconcious in his stories is unmatched by any other writer of crime fiction than I can name. I'm looking forward to reading THE GLASS RAINBOW.

  3. That's true Naomi - there is a lot of symbolism and underlying cultural and classical references etc in his writing. Plenty of subtext - which of course not all readers will realise (I'm sure I miss plenty of it myself). You'll be pleased to know that THE GLASS RAINBOW has plenty of that as well...