When all's said and done, James Lee Burke will probably turn out to be my favourite writer. I discovered him during the summer of 1997, between my 2nd and 3rd year at university. GQ had put a free copy of Dixie City Jam and I just considered it a cool freebie. Just like a drug, the first one is free.

Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Burke's writing is his lyrical, intensely visual writing style - I've never visited the places where he sets his books (almost always in the South of the USA, mainly Louisiana, New Orleans and New Iberia), but I feel like I'm a regular visitor. I can close my eyes and see the levees and mangrove swamps of Baton Rouge, the view of the Gulf of Mexico from Dave Robicheaux's bait shop in New Iberia. Burke can evoke the sights, sounds and smells of his locations so well that I don't think you could do better with a movie camera (which would probably ruin his stories anyway).

This very romantic style of description is in stark contrast to the rest of his writing - Burke writes about wounded and broken people struggling against prejudice, ignorance and brutality. The Robicheaux novels are superficially just detective novels but Burke weaves in threads dealing with Racism, the Klan, the history of the Deep South, corruption in the Police and politics, Vietnam, alcoholism, child abuse, and deep psychological trauma. His heroes are often as volatile and violent as his villains.

Burke's most famous (and most fully realised) hero is Dave Robicheaux, a Vietnam vet, alcoholic ex-cop/P.I. struggling to find happiness with his family and friends in a world that won't let him. You get the impression that Dave is very auto-biographical - I've never found a more three dimensional character. Robicheaux struggles to lift himself out of the dark and hopeless world of white trash has was born into, sometimes he's lucky, often he isn't.

Either way, I haven't yet come across a more compelling writer than Burke, or a more interesting character than Dave Robicheaux.


The Dave Robicheaux Stories:
The Billy Bob Holland Stories are inspired by the history of his mother's family:
Other Works: