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The Neon Rain, James Lee Burke

I’ve been holding onto this book for awhile, having bought it on the recommendation of Doug and Tomi Lewis at the Little Bookshop of Horrors in Denver. I’d been interested in Burke’s novels based on his critical reputation and evocative titles, but had hesitated to start another mystery series when I was having so much trouble getting throught the ones I had started years ago. But then Burke visited the Bookshop on a signing tour, and Doug and Tomi convinced me to give him a try.

Dave Robicheaux is a New Orlean’s detective who’s got two problems. One, a man on death row tells him that he’s marked for death, and, two, he’s worried about what this floater he found in an east side bayou might mean. Along the way, he discovers that the time problems are not as separate as they might seem. The writing is good, but the plot is steamier and more graphic than I had expected. The brutality in the book matches Burke’s style, but was surprising coming from what I had thought the book would be based on the critical comments that I had read.

The most intriguing aspect of this book was the handling of Robicheaux’s alcoholism. This is a modern detective novel, tough but not in the unrealistic hard-boiled style. Robicheaux’s drinking problem is a living thing–not a static bit used to “develop” the character and only ends up being paint on the cardboard cut out. Robicheaux’s problem is as much of a dynamic as himself, or, to put it better, is a reflection of his own dynamic personality.

[Finished 26 December 1994]


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