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Cover Story

James Lee Burke

Special to VeteransAdvantage

James Lee Burke

"Most of my dreams about Vietnam were nightmares that at one time made me fear sleep. I used to drink three beers before bed so I would sleep through to the morning. But now somebody was carrying me in the warm rain and I knew that I was once again in the loving care of the soldiers in my platoon. I had heard the klatch under my foot in the dark on the jungle trail; then, as though I were a spectator rather than a participant, I saw myself covered with cobalt light, my body crawl with electricity, my soul light the trees like an enormous candle." -- from The Neon Rain

James Lee Burke is among the best novelists writing today, in any genre. His forte is the crime novel, and he’s one of only two authors to win two Edgar Awards, considered the highest accomplishment for the genre.

A Cajun detective, Dave Robicheaux, is the central figure in eleven of Burke’s novels. A Vietnam veteran, he is a dignified, tormented outsider with a scarred past and anguish in his dreams,as one reviewer has noted. He is also perhaps the deepest, most fully developed [serial] character in American crime fiction.

Robicheaux’s experiences in Vietnam, where he served as a grunt lieutenant, intrude, usually in compelling dream sequences like that excerpted above from Burke’s 1989 novel, Black Cherry Blues. The sense of loss, of youth and of innocence, is palpable, far more real, in many ways, than all of the studies about the effects of combat on its participants. (Robicheaux also lived through the loss of his mother and the death of his father.)

Robicheaux is a flawed but fundamentally ethical character, as one reviewer put it, an errant knight who confronts the violence and perversion of Louisiana society in a quest for justice. He is, according to his creator, always on the side of those who have no voice or power.

Through Robicheaux, Burke, who has been called the Faulkner of crime fiction, probes the contentious emotional and social terrain of New Iberia Parish, Louisiana. Coursing through his intricately plotted situations are evocations of a world in which the gap between blacks and whites, between the haves and the have-nots, grows ever wider. Burke has a gift for rippling dialogue and compelling characters which, anchored by his hero, make for crackling good reads.

James Lee Burke has also written several other novels. The Lost Get Back Boogie, about a Korean War veteran, was rejected by publishers 111 times over nine years, but triumphantly earned Burke a Pulitzer Prize nomination after it’s ultimate release.

Mr. Burke’s novels that feature Dave Robicheaux are:


The Neon Rain (1987);

Heaven’s Prisoners (1988),

Black Cherry Blues (1989),

A Morning for Flamingos (1990),

A Stained White Radiance (1992),

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993),

Dixie City Jam (1994),

Burning Angel (1995),

Cadillac Jukebox (1996),

Sunset Limited (1998),

Purple Cane Road (2000).

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