James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series transcends the bounds of detective fiction and deserves the title of literature. Burning Angel, the eighth book in his time-tested series, proves the point. These novels are worth reading for their prose style alone. They’re written as well as anything I’ve read that is deemed Southern literature.

Lyricism and brutality in James Lee Burke

Burke’s prose is lyrical when describing the lush environment of rural Louisiana, brutally graphic in passages that describe the ever-present violence. Burke’s not for the squeamish. But if you can stand the heat, you’ll be well rewarded.


Burning Angel (Dave Robicheaux #8) by James Lee Burke @@@@@ (5 out of 5)


In Burning Angel, as in so much of the series, Dave Robicheaux tangles with the New Orleans mob when its tentacles extend into his own territory, New Iberia Parish. This time the Giacano crime family takes a bow. The wounded Vietnam veteran, former New Orleans police lieutenant, now deputy sheriff, and future private investigator finds himself face-to-face with the family’s predictably violent and probably deranged soldiers. Key among them is a crafty local thug named Sonny Marsallus, whom Dave knew as a child growing up in Iberia parish.

A cast of characters, familiar and unfamiliar

The series’ familiar characters are all present. Dave’s second wife, Bootsie; their adopted daughter, Alafair, now thirteen; the elderly Black man, Batist, who works with Dave in the bait-and-sandwich shop in his back yard; Dave’s predictably unpredictable former NOPD partner, Cletus Purcel; and an elected sheriff who had no prior police experience. The novel introduces a fresh cast of bad guys, including a corrupt cop, a bent wealthy lawyer, brothel owners, poor local African-Americans, and an assortment of psychopaths associated with the New Orleans mob.

In any one of the Dave Robicheaux novels, you can safely expect that not just Dave but everyone around him, including his wife and daughter, will be threatened with danger. You can also expect Dave to exhibit physical courage to the point of foolhardiness. Clete Purcel is even worse. At times, it appears that the two of them are more violent than the criminals they’re chasing. But it’s all in what might, at a stretch, be called fun.

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