Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Glass Rainbow: a Dave Robicheaux Novel

by James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster July 2010
From my personal library
Rating: 5 of 5 - sheer perfection

Have you ever smelled the magnolias, tasted the gumbo, seen the Spanish moss strung like Christmas garlands in the live oaks, heard the rain play on a tin roof, felt the damp salt breeze off the Gulf of Mexico? And the fleeting visions in the corner of your eye are indeed ghosts of an antebellum past, in the land of Marie Laveau. James Lee Burke's gifts are such that you will experience all of these things right there in your own home or in the coffee shop or on the evening train, even if you have never made it to New Orleans (NuOrlans) or south to New Iberia Parish.

Mr. Burke is the recipient of two Edgars (Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel of the year), awarded by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the only author to win more than one. In 2009 he was named a "Grand Master" by the MWA. He also received the Louisiana Writer Award presented by the now Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco. Mr. Burke is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Bread Loaf Fellow and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow (NEA). The Lost Get Back Boogie, his fourth novel, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He also taught creative writing at Wichita State University.

The Glass Rainbow is the best James Lee Burke novel, the best Dave Robicheaux tale. The novel begins with the investigation of the deaths of seven girls and young women. There is a list of suspects: an heir to a plantation fortune turned author of historical novels; an ex-con turned author of a novel about his prison time (one of those people made famous by an affluent "sophisticated" readership living vicariously on illicit thrills); a swamp-wise dealer/pimp/entrepreneur who preys expertly on desperate people with dreams of a significant life; a nouveaux-riche millionaire and his wife with old money pretensions, under investigation by the IRS and the SEC.

Dave Robicheaux, New Iberia Parish Sheriff Detective, Vietnam vet and recovering alcoholic who harbors no illusions about his fellow man, is conducting the investigation into the young women's deaths. As always, best friend and private investigator Clete Purcel, Vietnam Vet, disgraced former cop and alcoholic with a death wish (who is somehow adorable despite these things), has his back (sometimes in the form of ag assault and maybe justifiable homicide.)

The extra ingredient in this mix is the presence of Dave's daughter Alafair, home for the summer between college and law school. She is also writing a novel (there's a lot of writing going on here) and becomes involved with Kermit Abelard, aforementioned plantation heir from our suspect list.
This brew comes to a boil with results that I did not see coming. I kept counting the pages because I did not want it to end. This novel changes everything. Nothing in Dave and Clete's world will ever be the same. By the climax of The Glass Rainbow I was holding my breath with tears in my eyes.


  1. Yes I've been hoping James would be coming out with a new Dave Robicheaux book. I grew up listening to these stories on audio

  2. I do believe Mr. Burke is my favorite mystery writer,although the word "mystery" doesn't adequately describe what he does, does it?
    Who are your other favorite mystery writers?