"Louisiana Canopy of Trees
Music: "Jolie Blonde"
James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke was born in Houston, Texas, in 1936 and grew
up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast. He attended Southwestern
Louisiana Institute and later received a B. A. Degree in English
and an M. A. from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960
respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for Sinclair
Oil Company, pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter,
college English professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los
Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, and instructor
in the U. S. Job Corps.
I don't remember exactly how I stumbled upon the first book by James Lee Burke, I do know that it was pure happenstance, an accident of fate. I do not even remember which book it was that I read first. Shortly after my wife, Nancy, passed away I found that I was destined to spend a lot of time alone. I took refuge in the large collection of books that were available from the Parkland and Allentown, Pennsylvania libraries. Initially, I began to read the works of western writer, Louis L'amour. Louis L'amour is a very prolific writer and while I will likely never be able to say that I have read everything he wrote, I did read a lot of his books. I was and am partial to the Sackett series and own all seventeen of these novels, although in paperback form. I also read all the books that had to do with adventure travel; books by Least Heat Moon (Blue Roads), Peter Jenkins (A Walk Across America), Alastair Cook, etc. Read several of Mitchner's stuff and all of the books written by Tony Hillerman (Navajo Indian Reservation mysteries).
But in James Lee Burke I found a kinship that I cannot quite explain. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he and I were born in the same year, not too distant from one another and under similar circumstances. I was born in Choctaw County, Mississippi in January 1936. Perhaps it is the fact that most of his books are set in Louisiana, a place with which I am somewhat familiar. The surroundings were familiar, comfortable and once I picked up one of his books, I found it difficult to put it down. Of course, the life led by Detective Dave Robicheaux, bears no resemblance to any real world experience of mine. His life is that of the New Orleans and Louisiana underworld, the mafia, the made guys, pimps, whores, gamblers, political corruption, the backwoods cajun country, bayous, moss covered cypress trees and the like. James' world and his books may not be everyones cup of tea, but I relish and enjoy his works. I actually exist for a time in the pages of his books right along with his characters, and when the final chapter reveals the solution to the mystery and there are no more words to read, I always feel like I have been on a trip and now it was time to say goodbye, to go back to my everyday world and it is always a sad time; like leaving good and dear friends after a visit of short duration. It is always difficult to say goodbye. I always put the book down, but wanting more. I can hardly wait for the next new novel so that I can once again submerge myself into Dave Robicheaux's world once again.
So far, I have read fourteen of the twenty-three books listed. Some of his earlier works are no longer on the library shelves, which is a shame. I have not yet read his latest book, 'Crusader's Cross' (July 2005). His books are very popular in the local area and it is difficult to get on the list when they are first published and available in the local libraries, so I generally wait until the initial rush dies down. I recently checked Amazon.com and noted that 'Crusader's Cross', unlike most books that have maybe five reviews, has 76 reviews available and the comments are glowing. Many think that 'Crusader's Cross' is one of James' best novels, to date. I can hardly wait to read this one. But if I open this book, then in a relatively short time I will have consumed it and be left wanting for more. If I hold off, then the anticipation of a new novel is always there; without the feeling of abandonment that is always present when I finish a James Lee Burke book.
With respect to his earlier works, I may have to begin a search on e-bay to see if I can find reasonably priced copies of some of his early works. Some first editions, I have noted, are very pricy. But, whatever the outcome, James Lee Burke is and will continue to be my hero and one of my favorite all-time authors.