Saturday, March 25, 2006

Burke, James Lee. Jolie blon's bounce. New York: Pocket, 2003.

Ah, James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels are one of the true pleasures in life. I've been reading them about as long as I've been reading Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels, although Burke has never been quite as prolific as Parker. The first I read was Black cherry blues back in the early 1990's and I've read about 10 more Robicheaux novels since then. Another similarity to Parker is the series uneven quality. The first half dozen novels are amongst the best crime novels ever, but since then it's been a bit hit and miss; on the other hand, none of them feels like they were written on autopilot -- they are obviously labours of love, just some more successful than others. Another similarity to Parker is that Burke has more recently more-or-less alternated the Robicheaux novels with a new character, Billy Bob Holland. And, like the Spenser and Jesse Stone novels, I'm a bit behind in my reading.

So, what's the story here. Dave Robicheaux is a Viet Nam vet who's now a detective in New Iberia, Louisianna. Dealing with his alcoholism, his violent temperment and his tortured past, he solves crimes among the rich and poor in an intensly interconnected community. One of the great things about this series is the sense of history and doomed inevitability of family strife and violence that hang over the stories like a swampy miasma. Dave's violent temper always threatens to veer out of control and derail his investigations and his life. His past always haunts him and pushes him in unexpected directions. There's always a train wreck feeling about the best of the Robicheaux novels that sucks you in to the detailed and involving mystery.

And Jolie blon's bounce? It's certanly not the best of the novels, but it's certainly well worth reading. All the hallmarks are here: Dave's temper, his wacked-out buddy Clete, family tragedy, history coming back to haunt people and even a touch of the fantastic. And the bad guy, Legion Guidry, who may or may not be the devil himself, is one of Burke's most memorable characters.

As an aside, I really look forward to seeing what Burke will do with the first Robicheaux novel set in post-Katrina Louisianna.



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