on May 11, 2002
There is only one other mystery writer alive today who can approach the genius of Burke and that is Dennis Lehane. If you have not had the pleasure of discovering Burke, do so with this, the first of his 11, soon to be 12, novels starring the alchoholic, Cajun detective from New Iberia and The Big Easy, David Robicheaux. Dark and edgy and existential, Robicheaux inhabits a world of demons both internal and external. With the brutality of a Peckenpah film and the honesty of Sartre essay, this detective puts the formulaic best sellers to shame. If you want to remember why you read Ross McDonald (Lou Archer) and John D (Travis Magee) then do what I'm doing: start with Neon Rain and work your way through in order. The rewards are like a Saturday at the movies when it was a dime and the serials were as good as the main feature and the Duncan Yo Yo expert could walk the dog and rock the cradle. Drop the best sellers, unless you're reading The Last Empire or The Corrections and pick up James Lee Burke. You won't regret it.
on December 28, 2001
Reading the Neon Rain by James Lee Burke was only ok but diverting nonetheless. Reading Doug Greenberg's most excellent review here at Amazon hit the nail on the head. Jame Lee Burke's writing style was quite good but the plot became rather anticlimatic and too one dimensional. True, one has to read this definitive first book in the Robicheaux series to fully appreciate the later books. Robicheaux reminds me of John D. MacDonald's famous detective, Travis McGee (who is the definitive hardboild protagonist and is way hard to beat). Robicheaux lives on a houseboat in New Orleans instead of Florida and is fighting his own personal demons with alcohol, injustice and getting even. The VietNam veteran angle has been done to death, but in this outing is somewhat tolerable by the excellent narrative descriptions. Personally I had a bit of a problem with our hero waxing poetic about the Confederacy and the South that looses me, a Northern city boy. To me there was nothing romantic about the civil war, and a character that seems to honor that (Confederate) memory, and want to fight for the little guy is a bit of a contradiction in terms that needs more exploring. The reviews for the Purple Cane Road looks more promising and is next on my list and should be a better read. Kindly look for my review in the coming weeks.
on October 30, 2002
I've been holding onto this book for awhile, having bought it on the recommendation of Doug and Tomi Lewis at the Little Bookshop of Horrors in Denver. I'd been interested in Burke's novels based on his critical reputation and evocative titles, but had hesitated to start another mystery series when I was having so much trouble getting throught the ones I had started years ago. But then Burke visited the Bookshop on a signing tour, and Doug and Tomi convinced me to give him a try.
Dave Robicheaux is a New Orlean's detective who's got two problems. One, a man on death row tells him that he's marked for death, and, two, he's worried about what this floater he found in an east side bayou might mean. Along the way, he discovers that the time problems are not as separate as they might seem. The writing is good, but the plot is steamier and more graphic than I had expected. The brutality in the book matches Burke's style, but was surprising coming from what I had thought the book would be based on the critical comments that I had read.
The most intriguing aspect of this book was the handling of Robicheaux's alcoholism. This is a modern detective novel, tough but not in the unrealistic hard-boiled style. Robicheaux's drinking problem is a living thing--not a static bit used to "develop" the character and only ends up being paint on the cardboard cut out. Robicheaux's problem is as much of a dynamic as himself, or, to put it better, is a reflection of his own dynamic personality.
on September 1, 2002
Except for a few Christies in my teens, I never read mysteries at all (except for one or two that somehow made it into my college curriculum). It had less to do with a lack of interest than a lack of time. I was a struggling academic a long time (too long) and, although I enjoyed mystery films and TV shows, almost everything I read had to do with what I thought would be my life's vocation.
But the genre always intrigued me. International literary figures from Borges to Duerrenmatt have championed the genre and have often used it to their own ends. I was aware that many mystery writers were quite serious about their writing and that much of it rivaled the best in contemporary serious literature.
So in recent years, I've been playing catch up. I've joined with others in forming a Mystery Discussion Group in my public library...and most of these folks are much more knowledgeable than I am. In the past year, we have been doing a lot of sampling of various series, usually a very early work.
I will say that of all the authors we've discussed thus far, James Lee Burke was the least well received--by OTHERS! I found this hard hitting, hard bitten writer to be compelling. But most of the other members of the group seem to prefer more of a "drawing room" type mystery. I don't think I had ever really realized how great a gulf there was between the various sub-genres (I guess it's the Hammett vs. Christie school of thought).
If you've ever railed against the "bloodless" old-school, high tea kind of mysteries, you may want to check Burke out. People really die brutal, ugly deaths here. Murder is not seen as an intellectual puzzle, but as a horrible, de-humanizing reality. For that alone, I give Burke high marks. His complex, not very likeable (anti-)hero, Dave Robicheaux is another. This scarred Viet Nam vet is cynical, bitter and almost unapproachable. Yet he retains a core of decency that, I think, will redeem him in most readers' eyes. But like his extraordinarily understanding and patient love interest in the novel, the reader will have to cut through an almost impenetrable wall of defenses before discovering that moral core.
Some of the readers below have commented that this is not the strongest effort in the Dave Robicheaux series. That seems likely: first efforts usually aren't. I will certainly encourage my fellow discussion group members to sample other Burke novels before they pass final judgment. But I don't expect that Robicheaux, or Burke himself, to develop a rosier take on life and of human nature. Dave Robicheaux seems to belong to the subset of detective that we call "hard-boiled." I'm interested in reading other entries in the series, and know that if NEON RAIN is any indication, they'll be chock-full of surprises. But one thing I know not to expect is for Dave Robicheaux to turn into Mr.Warmth at any point. Now THAT would be a real disappointment!
on May 11, 2002
There is only one other mystery writer alive today who can approach the genius of Burke and that is Dennis Lehane. If you have not had the pleasure of discovering Burke, do so with this, the first of his 11, soon to be 12, novels starring the alchoholic, Cajun detective from New Iberia and The Big Easy, David Robicheaux. Dark and edgy and existential, Robicheaux inhabits a world of demons both internal and external. With the brutality of a Peckipah film and the honesty of Sartre essay, this detective puts the formulaic best sellers to shame. If you want to remember why you read Ross McDonald (Lou Archer) and John D (Travis Magee) then do what I'm doing: start with Neon Rain and work your way through in order. The rewards are like a Saturday at the movies when it was a dime and the serials were as good as the main feature and the Duncan Yo Yo expert could walk the dog and rock the cradle. Drop the best sellers, unless you're reading The Last Empire or The Corrections and pick up James Lee Burke. You won't regret it.
on September 6, 2001
The best way to read any literary series, including those involving hard-boiled detectives, is to pick them up in the order the books were written. That way, the individual stories take on greater meaning as part of the ongoing evolution of a principal character as he or she develops and changes. In light of this, it's tempting to recommend that prospective readers of James Lee Burke's Louisiana-based Dave Robicheaux series should start with *The Neon Rain*, which sets the stage for the numerous subsequent books.
Anyone who reads Burke's prose should be impressed by his unusual gift for verbal description. His ability to paint word pictures of places, characters, moods, and feelings is exquisite, and for this reason alone a reader might plow through the entire story. However, the plot construction of *The Neon Rain* is so anemic that I would not be surprised if many of those who read this New Orleans-based story simply refuse to go on to the subsequent stories set in New Iberia. This is a shame, since most of these later works are excellent mysteries in which the stories are far more complex and engrossing.
In this novel, and to some extent in all of them, Burke employs a formulaic approach in which his protagonist veers from crisis to self-inflicted crisis (in pursuit of righteousness and justice, of course), with the narrative invariably punctuated both by breathtaking descriptions of places and people (and also meals), and periodic episodes involving bloody mayhem. After a while it gets pretty predictable; in his later works, however, Burke develops story lines that are sufficiently interesting that he can make the formula work, at least most of the time.
It should be noted also that Burke demonstrates throughout his *corpus* an admirable sympathy with the downtrodden and disadvantaged both in America and abroad, along with a sneering dislike of the rich and powerful. This political aspect of his writing is certainly unusual within the detective genre, and for me, at least, is highly refreshing.
So, should people seeking a great detective novel read pick up *The Neon Rain*? Yes, but ONLY if they resolve beforehand to view it as a kind of "prequel" to the higher quality Robicheaux novels that follow.
on August 7, 2000
The David Robicheaux novels of James Lee Burke are simply some of the best fiction out there. You will be hard pressed to find a more exciting, more thought provoking, well written, and interesting series.
Neon Rain is not the best book of the series. In my opinion the best are In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead and Dixie City Jam. If you are like me you are thinking of reading this book after you have read some of the later novels. I started at Dixie City Jam and worked my way back. So I agree that in the scheme of things Neon Rain is not the best in the series, but it is a great start to a great thing.
To read about David as a cop in New Orleand working with Clete. To see how it all began.
So in short, this is a great series. I recommend reading some of the later books and going back to this one.
on March 3, 1999
A bookseller in Washington D.C. recommended Burke to me. She said "you'll love this character." I thought, a cop running around New Iberia Louisiana? No way. I've been to New Iberia and there's nothing there! But I decided to give it a try and started with the first in the series (Neon Rain). I almost couldn't get through it. This is a poorly written cop story, set in New Orleans, where Robicheaux is a drunken homicide Lt. It has none of the charm or style of the books that follow. Fortunately, Robicheaux decides to move to New Iberia in the second book, and the series really takes off and starts scoring strikes. New readers just discovering James Lee Burke's cajun hero might want to skip "Neon Rain" and pick up the series with "Heaven's Prisoners." You won't be missing much, if anything.
on June 11, 2002
New Orleans Detective Dave Robicheau finds the body of a black prostitute named Lovelace Deshotels while fly-fishing in Bayou Lafourche. Robichaux believes Lovelace is a murder victim although the Cataouatche Parish sheriff is treating the case as an accident. He begins to get interested in the case even though it is out of his jurisdiction and with the help of his partner, Cletus Purcel, is led to drug boss Julio Segura from Nicaragua and Didoni Giacomi of New Orleans organized crime. Robicheaux's task is complicated by the fact that his half-brother Jimmy is a friend of Giacomi.
This book is the first in the Dave Robicheaux series and the finale for Dave on the New Orleans police force. He retires due to burnout. THE NEON RAIN is one of the better entries in the Dave Robicheaux series.
on June 1, 2001
This is the first James Lee Burke book I have read. Everybody said read them in order and they will mean more. Part of this book was so great I did not want to put it down and part of it was so bad, to me, I wanted to put it down. Dave Robicheaux may be smart in some ways but not very bright in other ways. I could not believe that twice he got the stuffing beat out of him when he was not watching what he was doing or the people around him. He fights bad cops, a mob, has a contract on his life and a new girlfriend. Hi does take things in his own hands. The ending was very good, I liked it. I think he needs a "Hawk" if you get my drift. Guess I will try the next one, the good parts are great reading.