Friday, February 04, 2011

The Glass Rainbow

By my count, The Glass Rainbow is number 18 in James Lee Burke’s wonderful Dave Robicheaux series – and I have read and enjoyed them all.  In the Robicheaux series, Burke has created two of my all-time favorite fictional characters: Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel.  Amidst all the violence and mayhem found in a typical Dave Robicheaux novel, these two men manage to nurture one of the most touching male friendships ever created by a novelist.  It is a friendship that literally keeps both men alive, and it is hard even to imagine what either of their lives would have been like if the two had never met.

The Glass Rainbow is about the search for a serial killer who has killed seven young women in Jefferson Davis Parish, just minutes from Dave’s home in New Iberia, Louisiana.   Suspecting that Herman Stanga, a lowlife New Iberia pimp, might know something about several of the victims, Clete and Dave confront him at his home.  Their visit to Stanga’s home gets the attention of someone who does not appreciate their efforts, and the race is on.   Will they survive the investigation?  Will Dave’s wife and daughter survive it? 

Seldom has Dave Robicheaux been confronted by evil of this magnitude.   It is said that psychopaths recognize, and have a way of finding, each other.  Dave and Clete are dealing with a snakes’ nest of psychopaths this time – and not all the snakes in it appear to be poisonous before they bite, leading to what is perhaps the most nerve-wracking finale of any book in the series (I could barely turn the pages fast enough to get through it).

Without a doubt, The Glass Rainbow is one of the best books in the series.  It is filled with action and the long-running characters face more personal danger in it than they have in a while.  But what makes it even more special is the way that Burke share’s Dave’s innermost thoughts and philosophies with the reader.  Dave Robicheaux is a thinker:

            “Someone once said that had Sir Walter Scott not written his romantic accounts of medieval chivalry, there would have been no War Between the States.  I doubted if that was true, either.  I believed the legend of the Lost Cause was created after the fact, when the graves of Shiloh and Antietam became vast stone gardens reminding us forever that we imposed this suffering on ourselves.”  (Page 121)

            “How about oil?  Its extraction and production in Louisiana had set us free from economic bondage to the agricultural oligarchy that had ruled the state from antebellum days well into the mid-twentieth century.  But we discovered that our new corporate liege lord had a few warts on his face, too.  Like the Great Whore of Babylon, Louisiana was always desirable for her beauty and not her virtue, and when her new corporate suitor plunged into things, he left his mark.”  (Page 242)

“In the alluvial sweep of the land, I thought I could see the past and the present and the future all at once, as though time were not sequential in nature but took place without a beginning or an end, like a flash of green light rippling outward from the center of creation, not unlike a dream inside the mind of God.”  (Page 243)

“George Orwell once wrote that people are always better than we think they are.  They are more kind, more loving, more brave and decent…But too often there are times when our fellow human beings let us down, and when they do, all of us are the less for it.”  (Page 293)

“Don’t let anyone tell you that age purchases you freedom from fear of death.  As Clete Purcel once said in describing his experience in a battalion aid station in the Central Highlands, it’s a sonofabitch.  Men cry out for their mothers; they grip your hands with an intensity that can break bones; their breath covers your face like damp cobwebs and tries to draw you inside them.  As George Orwell suggested long ago, if you can choose the manner of your death, let it be in hot blood and not in bed.”  (Pages 351-352)

And my favorite:

            Because that’s the way I’ll always see her.  A father never sees the woman.  He always sees the little girl.”  (Page 390)

Despite all he has experienced or witnessed in his life, Dave Robicheaux is still a white knight; he plays by the rules even when confronting the most repulsive of the bad guys.  Protecting those who cannot protect themselves is his mission in life, and he does it well.  One day there will be no Dave Robicheaux in New Iberia and it will be a poorer place.  So will the inner-world of readers everywhere.  James Lee Burke proves here that he is still very much on top of his game.

Rated at: 5.0


  1. Could one read this book without reading the 17 books before that?

    I like the last quote... have to remember that next time when I talked to my dad lol.

  2. I haven't read any of these in quite a while. Next trip to the library, I'll look for this one, and several others that I've missed.

  3. I'm not sure what Sam will say, but I have read many of these fantastic books and not in any order at all. It didn't seem to dim my enthusiasm.
    Still it is fun to watch Alifair grow and mature and to learn the background of how she came to be with Dave.

    My all time favorite of Burke's is Tin Roof Blowdown, another Robicheaux novel about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It was knock you off your feet powerful! Burke's love of New Orleans shone through in every sentence!

  4. Absolutely, Christa. Burke does a good job filling in the backstory whenever it adds anything necessary to make the present story better understood. Those already familiar with the story can sort of skate past those little readers will get the gist of what came before in personal relationships and backstory.

    That said, one of these days I'm going to read this whole series all over again...and in order. It's a wonderfully long, intriguing history of a type of man I fear is very rare these days.

  5. You won't be sorry, Jenclair. Burke still has it, I'm happy to say.

  6. Sally, I agree with you. Also love "Tin Roof Blowdown, a very powerful story in that one.

    If you like the Alifair charater, you should find the book where she first shows up in Dave's life. You'll love it.