Sunday, March 10, 2013

Creole Belle by James Lee Burke

There are several reasons I like James Lee Burke's books, and a few reasons why I don't.  First the good. He’s one of a handfull of authors my husband and I agree on listening to while on road trips. Will Patterson narrates all of Burke's books and he is purely splendid.

Also, Burke's writing, when he stops creating characters and circuitous plots and just writes, can be excellent. Every now and then he slips into a soliloquy describing the Louisiana swamp that takes my breath away.  About every third or fourth novel is truly scintillating (e.g., Tin Roof Blowdown).  And lastly, one of Burke's main characters, Detective Clete Purcell, is one of the best-drawn characters I’ve ever read.

Now the bad. Burke (pictured) is pretty much one of those writers who puts out a book so often that you know  the theme and set of bad guys are going to be only slightly different. In Creole Belle he goes after BP (British Petroleum) with the vitriol they deserve. But at some point his attacks began to sound sermon-y.

And then there was the huge cast of characters in Creole Belle, which became so lengthy that we grew weary trying to keep them straight. Unfortunately, by the time the hubby and I finished the audio book, we were almost  indifferent. It just went on too long. 

Burke’s main character, Dave Robicheaux, is too ponderous and philosophical, and he and Clete seem to never learn from their past mistakes, so it is hard to care about them. They should have both been dead several books ago.

Perhaps it is time for Burke to retire Robicheaux and Purcell and just write. Creole Belle is not a bad book, it just isn’t great, and why bother with anything less than great.


  1. I must disagree with you. First, I admit that I love JLB and his books - especially with the audio that Mr. Patterson provides. Some books are read because of a compelling plot along with interesting character development. Earlier Robicheaux fit this mold - and maybe they still do for the new readers of this series. For me, JLB uses Robicheaux and Purcell as a mechanism to force us all to look inside ourselves and at the people around us and to contemplate life and our place in it. I believe that JLB is one of the best modern fiction day writers to promote this type of reflection - and he does it uniquely through the use of "Crime Mystery".

  2. Your comments and perspective are appreciated and I agree to a certain extent. However, to me, Mr. Burke's "look inside yourself" narrative, and some of his plot lines, have begun to feel obvious and predictable, lessening their impact. Nevertheless, my displeasure with these aspects of his books is contained within a high regard for his ability to create wonderful characters, and to paint euphoria inducing pictures in my head.