I’m celebrating All Hallows Read all month! James Lee Burke is one of my favourite writers. I couldn’t pick between my two favourites, so I’m including them both.
I know magical realism is a big thing now, but James Lee Burke was doing it when it was only a blip on the radar. In his novel Heartwood, the bad guy gets away with murder only to be literally dragged to hell by an early ghostly firetruck. It’s not implied as such, the main character sees the firey tracks disappearing into the side of a mountain known to be a gate to hell. Burke’s main character is often a damaged or wounded character. In The Tin Roof Blowdown, Dave is both an alcoholic and suffers from relapses from the malaria he suffered in Vietnam. Though the fact he’s still fifty-something despite having fought in the Vietnam conflict is just part of his mystery.
In the Tin Roof Blowdown, a character who steals the boat away from a priest trying to save a roofload of people during Hurricane Katrina (is roofload a word? An amount of people the average roof could hold?) and because he steals it before they can be helped. He’s plagued by the ghosts of the people who died. In the book after, Dave is talking to a woman in the hospital while he recovers from getting shot (or beaten? Dude has a lot of hit points) from a woman who has probably been dead since he went into the hospital, but she leaves her ipad. His world just crawls with the real and the unreal, up to an including an entire confederate army he stumbled into the swamp to find.
I love James Lee Burke. He’s the first author I read where I cared about the language he used to build the world without ever crossing over into purple. We all have our authors we try to emulate, James Lee Burke was a heavy influence on me.
The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke: In the waning days of summer, 2005, a storm with greater impact than the bomb that struck Hiroshima peels the face off southern Louisiana.
This is the gruesome reality Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux discovers as he is deployed to New Orleans. As James Lee Burke’s new novel, The Tin Roof Blowdown , begins, Hurricane Katrina has left the commercial district and residential neighborhoods awash with looters and predators of every stripe. The power grid of the city has been destroyed, New Orleans reduced to the level of a medieval society. There is no law, no order, no sanctuary for the infirm, the helpless, and the innocent. Bodies float in the streets and lie impaled on the branches of flooded trees. In the midst of an apocalyptical nightmare, Robicheaux must find two serial rapists, a morphine-addicted priest, and a vigilante who may be more dangerous than the criminals looting the city.
Bitterroot by James Lee Burke: Ex-Texas Rangers are suckers for old friends in distress, so when Vietnam vet and recent widower Doc Voss calls lawyer Billy Bob Holland from Montana with an apparently innocent invitation to visit, Billy Bob packs up and “head[s] north with creel and fly rod in the foolish hope that somehow my own ghosts did not cross state lines.”
Doc has managed to alienate everyone in town, including mining interests on the Blackfoot River; a drug-running biker gang; an enclave of white supremacists, led by slimy Carl Hinkel; the local mob connection, in the person of an even slimier Nicki Molinari; and the feds, who don’t want anything interfering with their pursuit of both Hinkel and Molinari. After Doc’s daughter is brutally raped by three of the bikers, and those three are murdered in a particularly nasty fashion, Holland must try to clear his friend of suspicion. As he ferrets through a tangled web of coincidence and connection, Holland risks losing everything and everyone dear to him.