Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Neon Rain

Neon rain is the first of the books by James Lee Burke to feature Dave Robicheaux. He's still employed as a New Orleans homicide detective and by the time the book opens he's already managed to trigger events that will explode in his face with ever more violent consequences. Robicheaux is an odd character. A Cajun Viet Nam vet driven to alcoholism but now dry for some years. Lauded as an outstanding detective by his superiors but seen here to be more versed in the arts of violence and intimidation. He's a master of the N'awlins' jive-talk and colloquialisms, so much so many of the natives don't know what the hell he just said, though thankfully Burke never even attempts to annotate the accent. Intelligent and widely read, anecdotes and philosophical opinions flow from him like water - even sometimes bandied with the low-lifes and cut-throats that dog his world. His relationship with Annie displays the gentler side of his nature, to a degree patronizing, but never really becomes as real as the violence around him; it's a movie romance, accelerated to match the screen's pace and caught in dream-like glimpses. He's like the extra cog from another machine, jammed into the works and striking sparks from every other character he encounters. He does wax-poetic from time to time, often about the natural world beyond the fringes of the human one. He lives on a house boat, listens to classic jazz and eats industrial quantities of shrimp. It does all sort of work though, even if the character of our hero is quite hard to pin down. Burke writes well, his own voice is there from time to time, hiding among Dave's thoughts, and there may be an element of the author setting up the character for the long running series that is to come.


  1. This is a great review, Michael! I just purchased two books by James Lee Burke...but I didn't realize The Neon Rain was the first, darn it. I've got Pegasus Descending and Last Car to Elysian Fields. Haven't ever read any of these Robicheaux novels so I'm eager to start. Am trying to decide if I should go out to get The Neon Rain, first, and read them in sequence.

  2. I got hold of a copy of an omnibus edition of the first three books. It's called Three great novels : Robicheaux - the early years. I've just read the second book Heaven's Prisoner, which was a better book than Neon Rain. I'm going to hold off reading the third book for a while Black Cherry Blues. It's meant to be the best of the three. I'm hard-wired to read thing in sequence.