Every month we feature a different author, publisher or bookseller who has earned the RLK! seal of approval! We will highlight and review their books/company as well as providing author biographies (where available) and publishing information. We hope you enjoy RLK! Spotlight On....

Author Bio:

James Lee Burke is the author of eighteen novels, nine of which feature Detective Dave Robicheaux, and a collection of short stories. The Lost Get-Back Boogie was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Black Cherry Blues won the Edgar Award in 1989, and Cimarron Rose, Burke's first novel featuring Billy Bob Holland, won the 1997 Edgar Award. In 1998, Sunset Limited won the CWA/The Macallan Gold Dagger for fiction. James Lee Burke divides his time between Missoula, Montana and Louisiana.



Books Published:

RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

SUNSET LIMITED

James Lee Burke's 11th Robicheaux book, Sunset Limited, is a twisted mystery that at times becomes almost byzantine in its attempt to keep disparate characters and narratives wound in a cohesive story line. But Burke's writing is so stunning that all is forgiven as you become immersed in the tale, which meshes past and present to uncover the secret of a decades-old murder.

Forty years ago, a local labor leader was crucified in a crime that remains unsolved. Now, his daughter - Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Megan Flynn - returns to New Iberia. With a seemingly insignificant remark to Robicheaux, she begins a chain of events that lead right back to her father's death. New Iberia, in some sense, is frozen in time as the age-old problems of race and class weave their way into the mystery, complicating Robicheaux's discovery of not only the original crime, but the wealth of murders that spring up along the way. Add in the Chinese mob, corrupt policemen, and a Hollywood film shoot, and the stage is set.

Burke's forte is his ability to create believable evil characters. The players - both good and bad - are characterized more by their flaws than their attributes, giving everyone a wicked sheen. The book isn't overly gory (although short descriptions can be rather graphic), but everyone has a dark side, emphasizing the noir-ish tones of the novel. His writing is powerful, mixing tender landscapes with dead-on, cutting descriptions and the camp dialogue of Chandler. Oddly, these sundry elements blend seamlessly, allowing you to overlook tenuous connections and occasionally confusing turns.

Don't pick this up expecting a happy ending. But for those who long for a modern-day Chandler, you'll find Sunset Limited a gripping and satisfying read.





RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

CADILLAC JUKEBOX

Twenty-eight years after NAACP stalwart Ely Dixon was killed, KKK alumnus Aaron Crown is finally convicted of his murder - and that's just the beginning of the trouble for Dave Robicheaux.

Against all reason, Crown protests his innocence, and the more Dave reads up on the crime, the less it seems to suit Crown's violent, impulsive nature. But standing up for Crown looks more and more like a sucker play when two filmmakers who've gotten interested in the case are murdered, and Dave's congratulated on turning a deaf ear on Crown's pleas by Giacano button man Mingo Bloomberg, who tells him he'll be taken care of for his trouble.

Next day, Dave's sounded out about a high-level state police job by Buford LaRose, the plantation scion who's ridden his book on the Dixon murder to an LSU professorship and now has his eyes on the governor's mansion. Just in case he isn't getting the idea, Dave's warned off Crown's case by Jerry Joe Plumb, the flamboyant real-estate player who gets Mingo out of jail; for good measure, he's even attacked at his bait shop by a machete-wielding Mexican.

But wait, there's more!

Figuring Plumb must be using Mingo to pay off golden LaRose, Dave can't find the best way to approach the candidate, partly because his pushy wife, Karyn LaRose, is his own former lover. Meantime, Crown escapes, swearing vengeance on Governor LaRose, and Dave finds himself stuck on guard detail for Louisiana's First Family, though he's convinced the LaRoses somehow link Jerry Joe Plumb to Ely Dixon and his pimp/developer brother Jimmy Lee. Even as Dave struggles to put the pieces together, the survivors of a generation's worth of bad blood are still swinging away at each other like blind titans. And only Dave can find out the truth....

Another satisfying delivery by an outstanding writer. Wonderful characters, great plot and great writing. Burke, yet again, brings his characters vividly alive. The characters are wonderfully colorful, the descriptions beautiful (especially of the Louisiana landscape), and always original.

Cadillac Jukebox is a wild story with enough oddball characters to make it interesting and worthwhile. Burke's muscular prose is full of grace and the book is one of his best. Highly recommended.





RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

CIMARRON ROSE

Before Burke launched his Dave Robicheaux series, he wrote several hard-edged, proletarian novels set in and around Texas. Now he returns to that setting for a new series that stars a Robicheaux-like character in the hardscrabble world of Deaf Smith, Texas.

You can take Burke out of Louisiana's Iberia Parish, but you can't take Iberia out of Burke, as this tangled tale of Texas murder and memory makes wondrously clear. Without his resume in front of you, you could never tell lawyer Billy Bob Holland (ex-Texas Ranger, ex-assistant US attorney) from Iberia's Dave Robicheaux. Billy Bob's passion for justice, like Dave's, is constantly battling the other passions that have engendered an unacknowledged son, Lucas Smothers, and that keep sending him into battle armed with more than his legal briefs.

When Lucas is arrested for raping and murdering Roseanne Hazlitt, there's no question but that Billy Bob will defend him; the only question is how far he'll go. Ranged against Lucas are dyslexic, psychopathic Darl Vanzandt, the spoiled son of a wealthy East End millionaire; Garland T. Moon, the rabid jailmate whose off-the-record confession to a California murder Lucas overhears from his neighboring cell; and just about every law enforcement official resident in Deaf Smith, Texas, from smarmy jailer Harley Sweet to Mexican drug agent Felix Ringo.

Burke saves Lucas's murder trial for the end, but the real action takes place long beforehand, as Billy Bob goes head to head with Ringo, Moon, the Vanzandts, two sheriffs, and his own defense witnesses. Each confrontation, as in the Dave Robicheaux novels, is engorged by the hero's overwhelming memories of his own family's involvement with evil: his father's violent death; his great- grandfather's spectral romance with Jennie, the outlaw Rose of Cimarron; and his own accidental killing of L.Q. Navarro, the Ranger partner who haunts his daily rounds as if he hadn't been dead 11 years.

Other riddles about the past keep the pot boiling so furiously it's a wonder Burke can get it to the table. All the roiling intensity of the Robicheaux stories. Even the ragged ends make other mystery novels look anemic.

Burke's book isn't gritty realism - Holland's dead partner visits him often - but the characters ring true in a weird way. They are quirky and appealing, and even the criminals make good company while the whodunit unfolds.

This is a fine tale with strong characters, good plotting and excellent first person narration. Cimarron Rose begins well and continues to grip the reader as a gallery of typical Burke villians (revolting pyscopaths, obnoxious federal agents, crooked law enforcement officers and rich spoilt, vicious brats) give hero Holland grief. Varying in style only slightly from Burke's earlier books, those who have enjoyed his work before should enjoy this book too.





RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

HEARTWOOD

Billy Bob Holland's good friend and neighbour Wilbur Pickett is framed for the theft of $30,000 worth of bonds stolen from Earl Dietrich, the local rich trash. So, Billy Bob is onto the case but the tale takes a turn for the worst when Earl's wife, and Billy Bob's first love, Peggy Jean enters the picture. As the number of bodies continue to mount, Billy Bob discovers that Dietrich has set his sights on a piece of oil-rich land belonging to Wilbur, and no one, not Wilbur or Billy Bob, is going to stop him from getting his grubby little hands on it....

The second entry in Burke's new Billy Bob Holland series, following Cimarron Rose, shows once again many of Burke's strengths: lyrical prose and a complex, tormented hero whose attraction to violence surfaces under the guise of protecting the weak.

This time Billy Bob, Texas Ranger turned lawyer in Deaf Smith, Texas, tangles with a classic Burke villain: the rich guy whose polished veneer masks a lifetime of brutality. Complicating matters are Billy Bob's still-smoldering attraction to the rich guy's wife. Burke's mingling of past and present usually gives his books a mythic power and a tragic scope. This time, however, the ghosts get in the way: too many echoes to previous books, both Cimarron Rose and the Dave Robicheaux novels, and too much similarity between heroes dull the emotional impact of the story rather than enhancing it. Still, this is a strong novel on its own terms, if a mild disappointment to longtime Burke fans.





RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD

The image of the dead girl's body lingered in detective Dave Robicheaux's mind as he drove home. After seeing the young victim's corpse, the last thing he needed to come across was a drunk driver. But when he saw the Cadillac fishtail across the road, Robicheaux knew the driver was in trouble. What Dave didn't realize, was that by pulling the car over, he was opening his murder case wider than he could ever imagine.

The driver, Elrod Sykes, in New Iberia to star in a movie, leads Dave to the skeletal remains of a black man that had washed up in the Atchafalaya swamp. So begins a mystery that takes Dave back to an unsolved murder - a murder that he witnessed in 1957. Haunted by the past as he confronts the gruesome present - day rape and murder of young prostitutes, Robicheaux must also contend with a new partner from the F.B.I., and the local criminal gentry. But for Dave, the answers he seeks lie somewhere in the bayou mist with the ghosts of soldiers long since forgotten...

Burke uses the southern ghost tradition in literature and story telling for the first time in this book. In subsequent books, ghosts again are important, guiding, and protective influences but none are as important as the General, who gives the reader insight into Dave. Some will see the use of ghosts here as perfectly fitting or too unbelieveable to accept - like it or hate it, the General is throughout the book and will either win you over or lose you.

Burke has produced a violent, somber, deeply satisfying crossover novel which is a masterwork of detective fiction, In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead is one of James Lee Burke's most suspenseful works to date.





RATING:

Publisher: Orion (Allen & Unwin)

Review Source:

BURNING ANGEL

Cajun Detective Dave Robicheaux is back in Burning Angel. Here he runs into an old acquaintence, Sonny Boy Marsalis, who hints at involvement in the US government's shady, mysterious dealings in Central America. Apparently, CIA-connected people want Sonny dead, but can't seem to get the job done. Somehow also involved in the mix is a local socialite and a gentleman from an old planter family who is hiding a secret forbidden love with a black woman from long ago. If the affair comes to light, it will damage both persons, perhaps permanently.

In typical Burke/Robicheaux style, Dave finds himself right in the middle of the conflicts, seeking truth where most would simply ignore it all and live on in blissful ignorance. As Dave digs deeper and deeper, unpeeling the truth like layers on an onion, the story reeks more and more of secret government dealings, unauthorized killings, and rumors of a business deal that threatens to harm the fragile Louisiana wetland environment.

In his incredible prosaic style, Burke pulls all the pieces together to weave a story as morbidly fascinating as it is documentary of the lifestyle of the Cajun bayou country that Burke knows so incredibly well. At times, you can smell the dirty rice sold on paper plates in Dave's favorite greasy spoon restaurants, hear the bass and goggle-eye perch splash in the bayou's predawn light, see the heat lightening over the marsh and smell the ozone in the air as a sudden storm blows in off of the Gulf of Mexico. Excellent imagery.

Once again, Burke gives us the complete package; the honorable, battered, and stoic detective Dave Robicheaux, a man who has suffered the trials of Job, but refuses to compromise his stout moral code of ethics; an excellent mystery involving local secrets that threaten to defrock a socialite and kill the local woman he is rumored to be involved with; and the flavor of the Louisiana bayou country.

The book suffers slightly from overly long and violent Vietnam horror stories and a supernatural element that doesn't pan out in the end. But overall, this is a terrific novel that certaily deserves the read. Don't make it your first Robicheaux book, but certainly place it on your list.





Websites:

James Lee Burke does not currently have a website. But there is a James Lee Burke internet guide at: http://www.webfic.com/jlb/jlb.htm


Where to buy:

Availability:     

For those who order online, try:

Amazon UK!   Buy Laymon & Others Here!   




 RLK! Spotlight On...
Past Features

 September: Leisure Books, Publisher Click here to view.
 August: Gerald Seymour, Author Click here to view.
 July: Brian Lumley, Author Click here to view.
 June: Michael Connelly, Author Click here to view.
 May: Stephen Laws, Author Click here to view.
 April: Gemma O'Connor, Author Click here to view.
 March: Simon Clark, Author Click here to view.
 February: Obsidian Books, Publisher Click here to view.
 January: John Case, Author Click here to view.

 A new Feature added monthly so check here often...



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