James Lee Burke is one of my favorite authors. I love all his novels, especially the ones about Detective Dave Robicheaux, who solves crimes and observes all the vagaries and savagery of humanity in sweaty New Iberia, La. From "Neon Rain" to "Heaven’s Prisoners" to his latest, "The Glass Rainbow," Burke writes with feeling, passion and, yes, humor, telling stories about the darkest deeds imaginable.
Reading his books is like taking the best creative writing class you ever imagined. Here’s an excerpt from "The Glass Rainbow," (Simon & Schuster, 2010) in which Robicheaux describes his best friend and former partner from his days on the New Orleans police force, private investigator Clete Purcel:
"Insatiability seemed to have been wired into his metabolism. He fought his hangovers with uppers and vodka and tomato juice and a celery stick in a tumbler of cushed ice, convinced himself that four fingers of Scotch sheathed in a glass of milk would not harm his liver, and clanked iron daily to compensate for the deep-fried softshell crabs and oyster po’boy sandwiches and gallons of gumbo he consumed on a weekly basis. His courage and his patriotism and his sense of personal honor and his loyalty to friends had no peer. I never knew a better and braver man. But threaded through all of his virtues was his abiding conviction that he was not worthy of a good woman’s love and that somehow his father, the milkman who had made his son kneel on grains of rice, always stood somewhere close by, his face knotted with disapproval.
"Clete was the libidinous trickster of folklore, the elephantine buffoon, the bane of the Mob and all misogynists and child molesters, the brain-scorched jarhead who talked with a dead mamasan on his fire escape, the nemesis of authority figures and anyone who sought power over others, a one-man demolition derby who had driven an earth-grader through the walls of a mobster’s palatial home on Lake Pontchartrain and systematically ground the entire building into rubble. Or at least that was the persona he created for the world to see. But in reality, Clete Purcel was a tragedy. His enemies were many: gangsters, vindictive cops, and insurance companies who wanted him off the board. Klansmen and neo-Nazis had tried to kill him. A stripper he had befriended dosed him with the clap. He had been shanked, shot, garroted and tortured. A United States congressman tried to have him sent to Angola. But all of the aforementioned were amateurs when it came to hurting Clete Purcel. Clete’s most dangerous adversary lived in his own breast."
This, the 18th book in the Robicheaux series, is about the murders of seven young women, mostly ignored because most of the victims are poor and black. "The Glass Rainbow" has just been released in hardcover; you can find it in your favorite bookstore or order it online.
Tobin is arts & entertainment reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks N.D.