Reviews and Recommendations by Mel Odom, Professional Writer

THE GLASS RAINBOW by James Lee Burke

I’ve been reading James Lee Burke’s books about Iberia sheriff’s detective Dave Robicheaux for fifteen years. I’ve gotten to know Dave, his buddy Clete Purcell, adopted daughter Alafair, and the sheriffs who have tried to keep him under control. During that time, I’ve trudged every mile Dave has gone, rolled over every loathsome rock, and surveyed crimes in the present as well as ones that stampeded out of the past throughout Louisiana. Through it all, I’ve mourned the damaged friendship Dave has managed with Clete, hated to see all the sadness and pain Clete has put himself through. But this book is the one all of us fans have been waiting for. This is the one that puts so many things to rights, and it’s a mind-numbing, jaw-dropping journey to get there.

For twenty-three years, James Lee Burke has been chronicling the fractured life Dave Robicheaux has lived as a Vietnam veteran damaged by the war, as a recovering alcoholic, and as a man dedicated to providing law enforcement in the worst places in Louisiana. When Burke describes these places and the evil that dwells there, as well as the horrible things that happened in those lands when cotton was king and slavery was an institution, readers can’t help but be propelled to a different time and world. That world is dangerous and deceitful and mystifying, filled with fear and a quiet, lethal magic that seeps from the land.

The murders of young girls set Robicheaux onto a collision course with cold evil, troubled souls, and deadly secrets. This is a standard landscape for a Burke novel, but every year I sit down with the new book feels like the first time all over again. The path of the investigation invariably meanders down different paths, but each red herring and false lead discloses more of the central characters as well the motivations behind the crimes.

This book has a lot of people in play from the onset. Kermit Abelard is the wealthy grandson of a patriarch known for excesses and extra-legal affairs. Clete Purcell says he can smell death on Timothy Abelard, the grandfather, and that description fits all the events that fall into play afterward. Death sits in on this table with the Abelards, and in this novel his name is Robert Weingart, an ex-convict with a murderous past and an unslaked appetite for more.

One of the best characters this time around, though, is Alafair. Dave’s daughter is now a young woman, home from college and working on her first novel. (For those of you who don’t know, Burke’s real life daughter Alafair has become a first-rate mystery/suspense writer and I encourage you to pick up her books as well. I’ve enjoyed them immensely.) Alafair takes up Dave’s investigatory instincts and shuffles herself into the case. She has become a truly awesome young woman and the relationship she has with Dave is tender and painful at the same time.

I loved how the book picks up various plot lines, straightening them out from time to time so they could be more fully appreciated. At first, I didn’t know if I liked the idea of sections being told through Alafair and Clete’s eyes, but there was no other way to do justice to the story. Burke manages it all very well, and the shifting perspective put an edge on several key scenes.

Even though this is the eighteenth in the series, a new reader doesn’t have to go back and read the other seventeen. A true fan might have a better understanding of some of the emotional complexities and payoffs in the story, but someone new to Robicheaux can enjoy all the characters, the action, and the mystery. A new reader also has the advantage of seeing Louisiana for the first time through Burke’s eyes, which is a breathtaking experience.

Simply put, old fan or new reader, you can’t afford to miss this book. And you’ll be anxiously awaiting the next one.


5 Responses to “THE GLASS RAINBOW by James Lee Burke”

  1. Hi, I posted a link to your review on my blog:

  2. I just finished this book, recommending it to my brother who sent me your review. One of the extraordinary talents Burke has is freeze frame in action scenes, capturing a moment of recognition or commitment or fear. The weather in Southern Louisiana is a big character in this novel. The drenched landscape and heavy rain cloak some scenes, enhancing the drama. I also like how he can telegraph emotions of Clete and Dave by silence and by a small visual cue, such as the smoothing of the muscles of the face. Alafair is a wonderful character in this novel. I usually don’t like women writers for some reason, but will try her. Thanks for allowing me to savor a great read.

  3. I’m glad I could help you! I will offer you one bit of advice, though. James Lee Burke is a wonderful writer but his books need to be spaced out to be best enjoyed. I’ve talked to readers before that tried to read them back to back. Reading the books that close together takes away some of the magic.

  4. Does Clete Purcell actually exist? I feel as though he does.

  5. Anna, I’ve never heard for sure, but I suspect he does. He’s too real, too flawed, too easy to imagine not to be based on an actual person.

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