Although Burke has written much that does not include the flawed detective Robicheaux, this character is by far his most popular and most developed creation.
Throughout his five-decade writing career, the prolific 83-year-old author has written a series of books about the Holland family, featuring a sheriff and attorney on their own quests for justice, and several standalone novels and short story collections. It is Dave Robicheaux, however, who narrates most of Burke’s tales of good and evil, love and hate, and pity and terror. The Vietnam veteran, recovering alcoholic, former New Orleans homicide detective, and current sheriff’s detective for New Iberia Parish in New Iberia, Louisiana— Robicheaux’s longtime hometown—is also Burke’s steadiest and sturdiest vessel for the author’s gift for drama, dialogue, and infusion of grand ideas into intimate stories of crime and suspense. Source: The Evolution of Dave Robicheaux and the Incredible Career of James Lee Burke | CrimeReads
Burke was born in Houston, Texas, and grew up in Louisiana. After college traveled extensively and worked in a variety of jobs, finally becoming a college professor at Witchita State University. He was also honing his writing skills and trying to find a publisher.
After many rejections, that happened and in 1987 his first novel, The Neon Rain, appeared. That was followed by Heaven’s Prisoners the next year. Both were Robicheaux novels, and they established Burke as a top-level mystery-thriller writer.
Burke’s Robicheaux goes where others fear to tread. His sense of himself and his history makes him an avenging angel, but there are always his faults and failures lingering in the background. Burke makes swampy Louisiana a much more foreboding place than the authors who set their stories in sunny Florida.
James Lee Burke demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of power similar to the late Robert Kennedy, who as a Senator in New York and Attorney General in his brother’s administration, fearlessly declared open season on the mafia and racketeering outfits. Learning in the process that, in the words of journalist David Talbot who wrote an outstanding study of the Kennedy brothers, “institutions like the CIA sometimes become so entwined with the criminal underworld, it was difficult to tell them apart at the operational level.”
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