In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke
This author should get a Nobel prize for literature on the basis of his book titles alone. Added to this one we have such notable names as Black Cherry Blues, A Stained White Radiance and Jolie Blon’s Bounce which has been reviewed by Rebel Voice.
James Lee Burke is, for Rebel Voice, one of the best authors on the go today. His Dave Robicheaux series is in a league of its own. Burke is someone who clearly knows the state of Louisiana and its people. His Robicheaux novels reflect that.
In this episode, we find Dave investigating a number of different cases which may or may not be linked. As a teenager, Robicheaux witnessed the execution of a black man in the swamps off the coast. Although he reported the crime, no culprits were found. The body re-emerges and brings with it memories of a different time.
In addition, it seems apparent that a depraved serial killer is running havoc in the state. Murders not previously connected all become part of Robicheaux’s investigation. It doesn’t help that an old baseball colleague, who just happens to be a major figure in the Italian Mafia, has come back to New Iberia and is causing problems. We also have the introduction of a Hollywood movie crew who are filming some scenes in the area. It all makes life very hectic and uncomfortable for Detective Dave Robicheaux.
This is a multi-layered tale, as are all of Burke’s. Neon Rain was the first of the Robicheaux series and was published in 1987. In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead was published in 1993. I am somewhat late to the James Lee Burke table. Yet although such stories are best enjoyed in sequence, I have discovered that with Burke each one is also stand-alone. His writing technique is masterful in this way.
This story, again, has the suggestion of the supernatural. Yet it is only the suggestion. The story does not hinge upon it. The paranormal layer is there for the reader to enjoy and even draw their own conclusions if desired. It is the mark of a great writer that he can offer such a choice as to how you enjoy the book. Is it an apparition that is seen or merely a psychological condition?
As I had previously mentioned John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series in relation to Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books, allow me to point out that Connolly’s first Parker novel was published in 1999. Burke’s (kinda) supernatural cop thrillers predate Connolly’s by some way. I wonder if the Irish author was influenced by Burke?
The Confederate Dead (OK I know I welshed on that long title but really, it’s a lot to type… and now I’ve just typed more than I would have originally if I had just typed the full title without explanation. I’m going to stop now) is a mystery thriller of the finest sort. It will keep you guessing right up until the last few chapters. It is also the first book in the series, that I have read thus far, that doesn’t feature Clete Purcell, who is a leading character in his own right.
Yet there are sufficient others here to keep everyone enthralled. In the last book by Burke that I read and reviewed, Alafair (Dave’s adopted daughter and presumably named for Burke’s own daughter) was 16. In this story she is 11. That’s gives some indication of the way in which I am bouncing across the chronology of Dave Robicheaux. It doesn’t make much of a difference though.
Dave’s investigation is assisted by the formidable FBI agent, Rosie Gomez, as they stir up all manner of ugly, including bent cops. But Dave is conflicted in wondering if the FBI are really interested only in bringing down the top Mafioso, or are they intent on also finding the serial killer. Either way, it all makes for more pressure on Robicheaux, especially as the local Chamber of Commerce want to do everything possible to keep the Hollywood people happy. That’s not easy when their lead is a drunk, likeable or not. Who would want to be Dave Robicheaux?
Burke portrays the countryside and people with a keen eye, as always. His depictions of the effects of storms and hurricanes and the damage they wrought are testament to the fact that he grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf coast.
The characters in The Confederate Dead are consistent and intriguing. We are masterfully introduced to life on the bayous of Louisiana. Burke’s books are an education in themselves, even if not to be taken too seriously. Dave Robicheaux makes me want to visit the area, although, given all the racism and serial killers and drugs and extreme weather, I don’t see myself ever living there. Coincidentally, neither does James Lee Burke. He now lives in Montana but keeps a home in Louisiana (presumably for old times sake).
In The Electric Mist With The Confederate Dead is certainly a great read. The plot is twisty and engaging. The pace is such that you will want to push on to find out what happens. This book will grab you by the nuts, or ovaries, and not let go.
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Excellent novel, as expected (some people go on box-set binges. I am undertaking such a process with the books of James Lee Burke. Got two more to go). Highly recommended.