JAMES LEE BURKE is in love with nature and he has the expressive and evocative gifts to pass along that passion to others.
Take this quote from one of his early novels, 1990’s Black Cherry Blues …
“We walked two miles up a US Forest Service trail by the streambed, the water white and boiling over the rocks, the floor of the canyon thick with cottonwoods and ponderosa pine, the layered rock walls rising straight up into more pines and peaks that were as sharp as ragged tin. The air was cool and so heavy with the smell of mist from the rocks, wet fern, pine needles, layers of dead cottonwood leaves, logs that had rotted into humus, that it was almost like breathing opium.”
Mr. Burke divides his time between homes in Montana and Louisiana and has described the landscapes of both locations vividly and poetically over the course of more than two dozen novels.
His books are peopled by moody, introspective characters like Dave Robicheaux, a troubled ex-cop living in New Iberia, a small Louisiana parish within shooting distance of New Orleans; Billy Bob Holland, a Montana lawyer with his own unique interpretation of the law and Hackberry Holland, Billy Bob’s cousin, a prickly and conflicted Texas sheriff.
Stubborn, haunted by memories of the past and bound by their own personal moral codes, Mr. Burke’s heroes are deeply flawed human beings who are often just trying to get through the day while doing the good and honorable thing (as they see it). The predicaments that result can be real page turners. However, the descriptions are so evocative and the primal themes discussed during the process of solving the mystery are so intriguing that you may want to take your time savoring the rich prose.
Thought-provoking and masterfully written, Mr. Burke’s novels transcend the mystery genre. As a critic for The Observer remarks, ” That James Lee Burke has been consigned to the literary ghetto marked ‘crime fiction’ is itself an offence.”
French-born Journalism professor Marcel Berlins, writing in The Times Metro compares him to William Faulkner and Sunday Telegraph reviewer Susanna Yager says “I can think of no other writer today who captures the American South with such eloquence and sympathy.”
I’ll drink to that. (Make that a Jim Beam straight up with a long-neck Jax beer on the side.)