Burning Angel by James Lee Burke
This is yet another episode in my Burke binge, and yet another that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Louisiana Detective, Dave Robicheaux, is thrust onto a smorgasbord of mystery and terror as he meets up with Sonny Boy Marsallas, a New Orleans street hustler who has returned from exile in Latin America. Sonny Boy appears to have been caught up in revolutionary activity in Central America, gaining a reputation as someone who has the protection of the angels. Robicheaux is beginning to wonder if there might be some truth to the rumours.
Of course, what would a Robicheaux novel be without the presence of the Italian Mob. They are to the fore in this one as the Giancano family move into Dave’s hometown of New Iberia. It seems that the mob have unfinished business with Sonny Boy also. Dave finds himself dragged into old battles and new wars as he tries to keep himself and his family out of harm’s way.
Clete Purcel is back in Burning Angel. Clete is a really likeable character. I do hope that he gets his own story some day (if he hasn’t already, I didn’t check (probably should have)) as his appearances really liven up events. Clete is like a more realistic Jack Reacher, although I suspect no one short of the Incredible Hulk could take Reacher on, at least according to Lee Child…
We also have Moleen Betrand (gotta love these names), a plantation owner with a dilemma. He is in the tough position where he must evict some of his black tenants, people who have been there for generations, to accommodate a new building project. Yet Moleen also has a dark past, one that interferes with his judgement. Robicheaux struggles to find the truth behind Moleen, his land and the ongoing works.
As always, there are the to-be-expected charismatic villains, and no one does villains quite like James Lee Burke. As if the Mafia aren’t bad enough, there is also the small issue of mercenaries who have followed Sonny Boy from Central America. Jerry Jeff Hooker and Emile Pogue are two such animals who refuse to brighten Dave’s day, but do serve to amuse the reader. We also get an introduction to more crooked cops (in Louisiana, who’d have thunk it?).
James Lee Burke stories are, as previously mentioned in Rebel Voice reviews, multi-layered. There is the suggestion of the supernatural running throughout. But is it genuine paranormal activity or psychological trouble suffered by our characters? The reader must decide. Such a devious entrapment, Burke, you old salt-dog.
Burning Angel contains stark depictions of life in the poorer areas of the state. We get a glimpse of how it is to be white and poor, black and poor, and black. The overall view is not flattering to the society that has been created. In this, it can be argued that the Dave Robicheaux series is a commentary on life in one particular part of the US, both contemporary and past. He makes clear statements upon the way in which both national and local society was and how it has developed. He does not pull his punches. I despair that there are no politicians, with the morality of Burke, in positions of control across the nation, as it would be in much better shape than it is today.
Burke’s setting and descriptions of the landscape are truly beautiful. Much of his prose reads as finely worded poetry. Although John Sandford creates similarly engaging characters, his writing does not have the depth of Burke who is on a par with Hemingway and Steinbeck. If James Lee doesn’t get a Nobel Prize for literature then there is no justice in the system. After all, Dylan got one and he is a mere babe in the woods in comparison to Burke.
Speaking of woods, the swamplands of southern Louisiana are presented in such a way as to entice the reader to the area, if you don’t mind the cotton-mouths and moccasins, and ‘gators and alligator gars and mosquitoes and crazy fuckers who eat one another and anything else they please. Sign me up.
Murder, mystery, thrills, violence, love and romance, fantastic setting, history lessons, social commentary, and education wrapped in a package of high-end entertainment, what’s not to like?
Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. Another solid performance by an Alpha novelist.
(alligator gar, apparently the swamps of Louisiana are full of these brutes (and there’s quite a few alligator gar too…))
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