Tuesday, July 22, 2014

James Lee Burke in discussion with Kim Hill

It's no secret that I'm a huge admirer of James Lee Burke, both for the quality and depth of his storytelling, and his generosity, wit, and wisdom when I've had the privilege to interview him.

I was chatting to John Connolly, himself a heck of a writer and terrific raconteur, recently at the Sydney Writers Festival, where he'd told an audience that Burke was the world's finest living crime writer. That you could disagree, but you'd be wrong.

I agree with Connolly. As much as there are many exceptional crime writers around nowadays, who take the genre into amazing depths, with fantastic prose and characters, for me Burke sits atop the mountain. He is the crime writer's crime writer, even if he is not as widely appreciated by mainstream readers as some others. It's no surprise that when I talk to other crime writers about the writers they most admire or enjoy, or their favourite characters in crime fiction, Burke and his long-time protagonist Dave Robicheaux, are mentioned more than any other. In a field of giants, Burke towers at the tallest Kauri. Though in his humble and self-effacing nature, I'm not sure you'd ever get him to even consider that.

As I said in a post last week:
"Like many, I don't like to pick favourites, as I guess there's that underlying feeling that by picking one thing over another, one awesome person over others, we are in some way diminishing the other people, ... But deep down I know the truth. If someone was about to go all Sons of Anarchy or Game of Thrones gruesome death scene on me if I didn't spill my guts, it would take less than a second for me to take a stand and choose my favourite interviewee: James Lee Burke. 
There are so many reasons I could give, but perhaps a snapshot of my most recent interview with the great man provides some insight: we chatted for more than an hour, and his then-latest book was mentioned for less than a few minutes of that. It was an interview timed for a book release, but we chatted about everything from the nature of war, social media as the modern Roman Coliseum, the Anzacs, art in genre writing, humanity, and so much more. Burke was engaging, intelligent, compassionate, and kind. I know his books aren't for everyone, but I am very glad that I enjoy them so much, and that I've been lucky enough to interview him over the phone a couple of times. His work, and he himself, resonate with me."

Last weekend, renowned Radio New Zealand host Kim Hill had a similar experience with Burke, on the eve of the publication of his latest novel, WAYFARING STRANGER. The 45 minute interview covers all manner of thought-provoking topics and world issues, and will make you think. Have a listen:

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