Archive for the James Lee Burke Category

Review: Last Car To Elysian Fields, James Lee Burke

Posted in book, crime fiction, James Lee Burke, review, thriller, US writers, writing with tags , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

last-carJames Lee Burke is arguably one of America’s greatest hardboiled detective authors, and Last Car to Elysian Fields not only does that reputation justice, it strengthens his position as a crime writer with an immense literary range that borders on the poetic.

Detective Dave Robicheaux is asked by Father Jimmie Dolan to join him on a trip into St. James Parish, where he meets the daughter of a musician who disappeared years before. Soon strange links begin to emerge between the musician, a savage attack on Father Jimmie Dolan, a fanatical and conflicted assassin, and the filthily rich whom Dave despises. The detective is drawn into the familiar collection of sordid secrets and escalating violence, as echoes of his own unresolved past begin to affect the direction of his case.

Burke is a masterful storyteller, who weaves an intricate web that hums with tension along its cords. What I appreciate most about his novels is that he doesn’t rely on tedious red herrings and cheap last-minute revelations to keep the thrill going; instead, he provides us with so much information about the people and circumstances that Dave encounters that we must distil the answers at the same pace as Dave Robicheaux. In other words, Burke allows us to be detectives in his novels, not passive viewers waiting for the next corny surprise. This plot line is as solid as his detective, and his Louisiana is as vivid and infectious as feverish dreams. His style remains wonderfully articulate and timeless, and one can only say the Robicheaux series is like a loyal old dog: it’ll never let you down.


Review: Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee

Posted in book, Booker Prize, crime fiction, James Lee Burke, Joseph Wambaugh, review, Salman Rushdie, South Africa, South African writers with tags , , , , , , , , , on April 15, 2009 by richardkunzmann

disgraceEvery now and again you come across a book that sets mood and tone perfectly, and you kinda have to wonder how much better crime novels would be if they all achieved this. James Lee Burke gets it consistently right, as does Joseph Wambaugh. But a prime example is J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace.

David Lurie is a self-obsessed and selfish lecturer in Cape Town who has an impulsive affair with one of his students, which ends on a bitter note of public reprobation. Rather than admit his guilt, the proud and stubborn man resigns and heads for the country to visit his daughter. There he soon finds himself mingling with people that teach him vastly different ways of how to live a life, for better or worse, and he soon discovers that the South Africa that was once his, by token of his race, is changing into something threatening and unknowable.

This book won Coetzee the Booker Prize in 1999, and it is easy to see why. The narrative’s style is jarring and in places distinctly unpleasant – magnificently reflecting the nature of the book itself. Issues of power, whether related to race or gender, are explored to their horrifying extremes and we watch David Lurie’s character broken down and transformed by each major event. Characterisation and narrative are seamlessly entwined, although Lucy’s behaviour – essential to the story’s message – sometimes strains believability.

This is not an easy read and the novel will leave you feeling disturbed for days on end. My only complaint is more of a simple gripe: this is literature at its most earnest and therefore not very accessible. Sometimes the reading feels more like an intellectual test than a work of art easily appreciated. Where Salman Rushdie’s writing allows you room to absorb it on many different levels, Disgrace makes you sweat every step of the way.