The comment that has surprised me most since I published my first novel, TITO’S DEAD, last week, is, ‘A Crime novel? I wouldn’t have seen you writing a Crime Mystery’ novel.’ Why not?
Mystery and crime are two phenomena no-one’s short of, in fiction or real life. But I think I got my love of crime novels from my father who read everyone from Arthur Conan Doyle to Mickey Spillane, when I was growing up.
I sought them all out, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Doyle, Spillane, Maupassant, Ellroy and, more recently, Harlan Coben, Ian Rankin, Michael Connelly but, above all, James Lee Burke.
James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels are never ‘typical’ crime novels. First, there’s Robicheaux, a disgraced, former NOPD Homicide lieutenant turned sheriff’s detective in Iberia Parish.
Robicheaux is a good man with a chequered past; a Vietnam veteran and recovering alcoholic who carries traces of post-traumatic stress disorder and an unspecified, but lingering, guilt from the eruption of his parents’ marriage, his father’s death and his mother’s violent murder at the hands of corrupt, NOPD detectives.
His background is working class, backwoods, Louisiana Cajun. He’s Catholic. He runs a bait shop and bayou cafe when he’s not detecting. He has problems with authority, is single-minded in his pursuit of wrongdoers, corporate polluters and the antebellum remnants of the southern ascendancy. Robicheaux, although an essentially good man, has a violent streak.
Some of Burke’s other novels, like Two for Texas, are historical explorations of the complex forces that combine to make up Robicheaux’s contemporary environment; Louisiana’s sub-tropical swamplands, struggling to survive against the elements of natural phenomena like hurricanes, corporate greed and pollution and the complicit dealings of corrupt politicians, police and the Mafia.
Into this milieu in ‘In the Electric Mist’, he introduces a story about a violent and sexually perverted, serial killer; an alcoholic, Hollywood actor with psychic leanings and a sociopathic, Mafia boss, turned film producer.
The actor taps in to Robicheaux’s own psychic inclinations by introducing him to the ghost of a one legged, one armed, Confederate general who, along with his ragged bunch of soldiers, haunts the swamps around his home.
Now he’s worried it’s just a dry drunk dream or living nightmare or has he conscripted himself into a new struggle with the Confederate dead, to fight the forces of evil, whether corporate, criminal or perverse or combinations thereof, that threaten his life and the lives of those he love as well as the environment they live in?
I’ve read everything I could find of James Lee Burke’s and I’m a fan.