The pleasure of (re)reading James Lee Burke.
I’m going through a phase of revisiting old books, movies, and television shows. At my age, I enjoy new phases. I mean, how many do I have left?
Anyway, the old movies are self-explanatory. Many of them were extremely well-made, especially since actors and directors, working under a strict morality code, had to hint at things modern films explicitly depict.
As for TV, cable and otherwise, the current Hollywood strikes have limited the output of new scripts. I’m not a big fan of the reality shows that now flood the airwaves. (“Love in Lockup”? Please!) So, I’ve been bingeing “Seinfeld,” which I rarely watched back in the day. I love it.
Readers of this column know that I’m fond of picking up a Spenser private-eye mystery that I’ve already read several times. But recently, I’ve started rereading other books, too. My sister-in-law dropped some off the other day, and I started Crusader’s Cross by James Lee Burke. The book looked brand new. (My sister-in-law is a former teacher; enough said.)
I was excited. Here was a book I’d not read before! Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I realized that, in fact, I had. The dead giveaway was when Dave Robicheaux, Burke’s recurring alcoholic Louisiana detective protagonist, beds a nun (she hadn’t taken her final vows yet, and he eventually marries her).
Even I couldn’t forget that scene.
The beauty of the book, which Burke wrote in 2005, was that it’s still so damn readable. Burke is a master of the English language, as in this passage narrated by Robicheaux:
“That evening, at dusk, Clete Purcel and I sat in canvas chairs on the edge of Henderson Swamp, pole-fishing with corks and cut-bait like a pair of over-the-hill duffers who cared less about catching fish than just being close by a cypress-dotted swamp while the sun turned into a red ember on the horizon.”
That’s one of the less-descriptive passages in the book, which should tell you what a delight it is to read Burke’s prose. Of course, since it’s a murder mystery involving a serial killer, Robicheaux continues, “I told him of the bender I had gone on and the discovery that morning of Honoria Chalon’s body.”
Robicheaux is soon enveloped in a scandal (sleeping with Sister Molly didn’t help) related to the murder, of which he is an obvious suspect. He even worries that he might’ve unwittingly sliced and diced Honoria in an alcoholic rage.
Burke’s dialogue, especially when uttered by his fictional cops, roughnecks, miscreants, and Cajuns, is priceless. In his Robicheaux novels, he paints a bleak picture of humanity but offers glimmers of heroism and redemption.
I can’t wait to read more Burke novels, whether I recall them or not. And for the record, I’m pretty certain my memory lapses are limited to books, not bodies.
Lawrence De Maria has written more than 30 thrillers and mysteries on Amazon. They are all available in print and as e-books, including his latest, Joshua House. He once met James Lee Burke’s daughter Alafair, a good mystery writer in her own right.