Friday, September 01, 2006

The calm before the storm

Visiting non-English-speaking family and, frankly, not that much going on have combined to ensure limited outings in the past few days. Things will pick up soon though: I've just realized with no little trepidation that the two weeks following September 9 are booked solid already. I guess that's what Emergen-C was invented for.

I'll use my last shreds of free time to finish James Lee Burke's latest Dave Robicheaux novel, Pegasus Descending. I discovered Burke on a trip to Louisiana about three years ago, and was immediately taken with his Cajun spin in American noir. Burke's plots are better than usual (and he doesn't glamorize Robicheaux, an alcoholic cop with a penchant for bursts of destructive rage) but I especially love his relentless attacks on Louisiana's corruption and its crushing poverty. The latter is what I remember most from driving through the state's backwood parishes. America can flex its muscles all it wants, but cruise half a day on roads littered with abandoned rusty appliances and punctuated by pitiful casinos and drive-by daiquiri shacks, and I guarantee you'll drop into a funk rather different from the one advertised in the va-va-voom French Quarter (which I actually found rather depressing, full as it was of fratboys drinking vats of beer at 11am).

Burke is to Louisiana what Carl Hiaasen is to Florida. Both use the crime-lit framework to ram into their respective state's foibles, though Hiaasen opts for a lighter, farcical approach, while Burke is downright Greek in his perception of Louisiana. The state he describes is mired in the 19th century, paralyzed by antediluvian class and race structures. Forget about Jay McInerney: If Burke wrote "literary" novels about New York society, he'd be ranked as one of our era's most biting, clear-eyed chroniclers. But he writes about a middle-aged cop in Iberia Parish, so he doesn't get full-page reviews in opinion-defining newspapers. That's okay: Readers with an inquisitive mind know where to find him.

1 comment:

Marc Geelhoed said...

Oh, man, yre. totally right abt. Burke. The way he delves into the interior life of Robicheaux sets him so far apart from other detective writers. He captures the Louisiana dialogue almost as well as Elmore Leonard captures that of thugs.