Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Burke and here

The new James Lee Burke novel, Pegasus Descending, is due out next month. That's the hardback edition in the US. I'm not sure if there's a simultaneous release in paperback over there. I do know that it'll be months before it gets here in either form.

New mid-year resolution: Give up looking at book reviews in overseas newspapers. There's a real frustration in reading through the Guardian or the New York Times and finding a whole bunch of books that sound fantastic but aren't yet available on this side of the world. There's always amazon.com or amazon.co.uk. Or patience.

Burke's novel is another in the Dave Robicheaux series. I expect something dreadful will befall our Cajun hero but it's difficult to imagine what fate will bring. He's already married and buried three women. (I think that's right. It could be more. It could be fewer.) God knows how many people he's knocked off in the line of duty. He and buddy Clete Purcell must be getting commissions from the funeral parlours at New Iberia. Sure, the violence is theatrical. But Burke can write. Especially descriptions.

He is an expert in the telling detail. When he describes the Louisiana bayous or decaying mansions, he avoids the obvious. He lets you fill in the features you already know—the whitewash peeling from the walls, the bruised camellias. Burke concentrates on the elements that distinguish this setting from the clich├ęs. The real details.

Here's an excerpt from Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002).

Her body was found just before dawn the next morning by a black man who was running trotlines in the swamp. The sun was still low on the horizon, veiled in mist, when Helen Soileau and I boarded a St. Martin Parish Sheriff's Department boat with two detectives and the coroner and a uniformed deputy from St. Martinville. We headed up Bayou Benoit in the coolness of the early morning, between flooded woods and through bays that were absolutely silent, undimpled by rain or ruffled by wind, the willows and gum trees and moss-hung cypress as still in the green light as if they had been painted against the sky.

The uniformed deputy turned the boat out of the main channel and cut back on the throttle and took us through a stand of tupelo gums that were hollowed out by dry rot and whose trunks resonated like drums when the boat's hull scraped against them. Then we saw the desiccated remains of a houseboat that had lain twisted inside the trees since Hurricane Audrey had struck Louisiana in 1957, its grey sides strung with blooming morning glories.

This is the opening of a scene. The first paragraph is smooth but not too exciting. That second paragraph does it for me. The hollow trees. The stranded houseboat. The morning glory. The rhythm of the words. Great stuff.


Sherryl said...

In the last one he married the nun. Surely she's not dead too! Did I miss something? (highly likely).
Currently trying to buy a cheap Kmart copy of the latest Peter Robinson - refuse to pay $32 for a paperback!

Snail said...

Ah, the nun! Molly. Of course! I'd lost count.