Monday, November 12, 2012

Series Fiction: James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux

I have enjoyed "series fiction" for as long as I have been reading, particularly series that focus on crime detectives - be they "official" or "private," male or female, American, Japanese, or anything in between.    And, it seems that the longer the series, the more I enjoy them.  There is something very special about watching a character evolve and go through the same aging process that I, as a reader, am experiencing in the real world.

So it makes perfect sense that many of my favorite authors write exactly the kind of stuff I love most: James Lee Burke, Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton, Ruth Rendell, John Harvey, Dennis Lehane, Ian Rankin, Sara Paretsky, Robert B. Parker, and Denise Mina.  I knew I could depend on them to provide me with a new chapter in their hero's life story each and every year, regular as clockwork.  Some of them are still doing that, others have killed off their hero (or themselves died), and a few have gone in others directions.  Some lost interest in the old storyline and started entirely new series or decided to spin secondary characters into series of their own.  Others have simply slowed the pace down by going longer than a year between series books.

James Lee Burke is still Old Dependable.  He somehow manages a new Dave Robicheaux novel almost every year while steadily adding to his shorter Hackberry Holland and Billy Bob Holland series.  I really like the Holland clan, but it is a new Dave Robicheaux novel that still gets me most excited about Burke's writing.  It all started twenty-five years ago with 1987's The Neon Rain in which I was introduced to Dave, the first popular-fiction Cajun hero I ever ran across.  Has there ever been another, for that matter?  As someone of Cajun heritage, I have always taken the jokes, the name-calling, and prejudice pretty much in stride, but I have to admit that it was rather gratifying to finally run across a heroic cajun (even though, at times, Dave is more anti-hero than hero).  I was hooked - and still am.

Dave is, or has been, many things: recovering alcoholic, oil field trash, Viet Nam veteran, homicide cop in one of the dirtiest police forces in the country, jazz fan, racetrack regular, fisherman supreme, and defender of the weak.  The man has almost as many flaws as the bad guys he chases, and that's why he gets the job done - he does whatever it takes.  We've almost lost Dave to the bad guys a time or two (see 2010's The Glass Rainbow), but he's still with us.  Thanks for that, Mr. Burke.

Dave Robicheaux's story is a fascinating one best experienced in the order it was published.  Catching up will require some time and energy, but it is well worth the effort.  You will thank me, especially if you read the books in this order:

  1. The Neon Rain (1987)
  2. Heaven's Prisoners (1988)
  3. Black Cherry Blues (1989)
  4. A Morning for Flamingos (1990)
  5. A Stained White Radiance (1992)
  6. In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead (1993)
  7. Dixie City Jam (1994)
  8. Burning Angel (1995)
  9. Cadillac Jukebox (1998)
  10. Sunset Limited (1999)
  11. Purple Cane Road (2000)
  12. Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002)
  13. Last Car to Elysian Fields (2003)
  14. Crusader's Cross (2005)
  15. Pegasus Descending (2006)
  16. The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007)
  17. Swan Peak (2008)
  18. The Glass Rainbow (2010)
  19. Creole Belle (2012)
So there you have it - 19 James Robicheaux books in roughly 25 years.  It doesn't get much more consistent than that.  Throw in the three Hackberry Holland novels and the four novels in the Billy Bob Holland series and Burke is right on that one-a-year pace that his loyal fans hope for.


  1. What a coincidence, I recently reread Neon Rain, and totally was reminded why I love Dave R so much. A lot of my favorite detectives hae trouble with alcohol and relationships: Dave, J P Beaumont, Tom Thorne, and others I can't think of off the top of my head. And Thomas Lynley clearly has his problems with relationships, for that matter.

    Why do I like my detectives so messed up??

  2. Those detectives do have a lot in common, don't they, Susan? You reminded me of my long term goal of re-reading the whole Dave Robicheaux series someday...with nineteen books, and counting, that might take a while.