Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke

I enjoy listening to books on audio as well as reading them, especially since I have to drive 45 minutes one way to work. This is how I read Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke. Mark Hammer gives voice to the characters in Burke's tenth Dave Robicheaux novel, and he does a phenomenal job.

One of the things I like best about the Dave Robicheaux novels is the fact that Dave isn't a comedic character. Don't get me wrong, some of my favorite characters are ones that are constantly cracking jokes (Elvis Cole, Lincoln Perry). But Dave is set apart from these characters with his serious nature. He is plagued by constant internal conflict and that is reflected in his personality. The supporting characters, however, provide a great comic relief: Clete, Helen Soileau, the sheriff, Batiste, and of course Alafair.

In this installment of the Dave Robicheaux series, Dave inadvertently gets caught up in the murder of a union leader that happened 40 years ago. Burke ties in some religious symbolism by having Jack Flynn be crucified, and the symbolism may border on the extreme side when two criminals end up on either side of Flynn, but it does bring the point across. Throughout the novel, I was constantly wondering who exactly the "bad guy" was. But, with James Lee Burke, it's never as simple as merely a "bad guy."

The characters in this novel are richly developed. Lila Terrabonne borders on the absurd while the reader can't help but be repulsed by her father. His arrogance sitting atop his ivory tower leaves you rooting for Dave to knock him down. But life is never that simple, and Burke doesn't try to paint an unrealistic fairy tale. While Dave pursues killers for hire, they are turning on each other. And you know Swede Boxleiter is an evil creature, but you can't help but admire his devotion to Cisco Flynn - their bond that had been sealed through years of foster care and abuse. Likewise Willy "Cool Breeze" Broussard is a convicted felon; he did time in Angola. But would his plight have been the same had he not encountered depraved men in power? These people we can sympathize with, but those with money and power who simply choose to force their ways on others through murder and torture and other heinous crimes...those are the ones we despise. And Burke creates characters that the reader is capable of despising.

Burke is often poetic in his descriptions, taking the reader into the heart of Louisiana and the minds of his characters. It's a challenge to read his work and not feel like you're a part of it.


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