When I was a kid, I used to go with my dad to visit his parents, who retired to a bayou in north Louisiana. And while north Louisiana is almost a drastically different state than south Louisiana, the flourishes of French culture combined with the marshlands, cypress trees, and petrostate aesthetic are still prevalent in that neck of the woods.
So whenever I need to do some bayou reading, I look up the next David Robicheaux book from James Lee Burke.
I plan on pouring through the series now after picking around for a few years because I’m curious to see Burke’s development as a writer. In the first Robicheaux book, the action takes place mostly in New Orleans. After that, it’s mostly the Iberian bayou with side trips to the Crescent City. So while there are urban escapades, these books very much capture the heart of what urban life is like in rural Louisiana.
The story is a familiar one, at least from other Burke books I’ve read: mobsters, feds, an international angle (Louisiana is the crossroads of the Gulf of Mexico, after all). They also feature female characters who are frequently underwritten. Yet what I appreciate about Burke’s style is that while Robicheaux may be too far gone to be “saved” of his bad habits, the books aren’t afraid to interrogate what it actually means to be a police officer. Several times, Robicheaux laments at how the justice system will put away lower class folks and let the bean counting white collar types escape again and again.
This sets Robicheaux up as less of a hero type and more of a man trapped by his past who, while desperately needing to break free of the mold*, is just another working class hump trying to make things right in his troubled corner of the world.
Aside from that cliche and the obnoxiously nefarious LGBTQIA+ character, I enjoyed this one a lot.
*Boy, am I tired of broken men in a broken world books. Time will tell if these will progress the way the Scudder novels did.