James Lee Burke is one of the finest writers producing crime fiction anywhere in the world today. His prose sings. The scenes he sets trigger all five senses. His plots are deliciously complex and challenging. And, more important still, he creates characters that are difficult to forget.
The protagonist of Burke’s twenty-book series of detective novels, Dave Robicheaux, is a Cajun who is a Vietnam combat vet, a fourteen-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, and an on-again, off-again deputy in the New Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department, located west of New Orleans. Robicheaux’s first wife was brutally murdered by drug dealers. He has since married his high school sweetheart, Bootsie. Together, they are raising now ten-year-old Alafair, a delightfully lively Central American girl whom he rescued and adopted several years ago when the plane carrying her and her mother to the United States went down in the Gulf. The three live in an old house on the bayou, steps away from the bait-and-sandwich shop and boat rental that Robicheaux operates with his partner, Batist, a powerful Black man whose intelligence is belied by his mangled syntax. Robicheaux is fifty-three years old in the sixth book in Burke’s series, In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead.
Enter Hollywood and the Southern mob
An offshoot of the Mafia has operated for decades in New Orleans and features prominently in many of Burke’s novels. A central character in In the Electric Mist is Julie Balboni, a six-and-a-half-foot-tall New Iberia-born gangster who returns with a retinue of thugs when he invests in a Hollywood film production on location outside town. Unsurprisingly, Balboni’s investment is a move to launder the profits from his operations in the drug trade.
The film stars an alcoholic leading man, Elrod Sykes, who also takes a place at center stage in the novel. The film’s director, Mikey Goldman, is a volatile, foul-mouthed bully. All these characters, and others, are brilliantly drawn. They come to life on the page.
The ensuing collision of these characters is inevitable, but it’s a genuine pleasure to read about it. The story is suspenseful to the end.
About the author
James Lee Burke is a Grand Master Award winner from the Mystery Writers of America. He has written twenty books in the Dave Robicheaux series, fifteen other novels, and two collections of short stories.