The Neon Rain: A Dave Robicheaux Novel, by James Lee Burke

I’m always on the search for a mystery/thriller writer I can enjoy. I save Harlan Coben books for times when I’ve pushed my way through marginal to awful books just to clear my brain with a writer who can draw me in. My late wife was a mystery fan. She introduced me to writers like Patricia Cornwell (excellent), Janet Evanovich (like Scarlatti, writing the same concerto 400 times), and Sandra Brown (please just shoot me). And on my own I’ve worked my way through Sherlock Holmes, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and will go back to reread ones I love.

I hadn’t hit Burke before but really found a kindred spirit in several ways. I love the setting of New Orleans and the bayou. He writes beautiful prose. (I’ve checked a few reviews and don’t think that’s emphasized nearly enough. He’s just an excellent writer.) And as a Catholic there’s some resonance with a character educated by Jesuits and a book that, more than once, mentions St. John of the Cross and recommends reading The Dark Night of the Soul.

This book was found on an internet sale for first-in-series books. It’s now in the category of “older book” having been published in 1985. Robicheaux is a Vietnam vet working as a homicide detective for the New Orleans PD. The book is set around 1983 because he mentions the My Lai Massacre having happened 15 years before. As that happened on my 13th birthday (1968) the arithmetic comes easy. He’s a recovering alcoholic, newly divorced, and carries a lot of demons not necessarily job related.

I doubt I’m the first person who really doesn’t care what happens in a mystery as long as the characters, especially main characters, are interesting. We’re lucky with Sherlock Holmes to have a fascinating hero with many excellent puzzles, along with quite a few mediocre ones where the key element is a disguise. Same here. The “McGuffin” is a dead woman found by Robicheaux when out fishing. It happens outside of New Orleans so it isn’t really his case but he wants to know what happened and seems to be the only person in Louisiana who does. People are met, punches are thrown, shots are fired, and he meets a soul mate along the way. The Robicheaux charm is that he cares about things that happen and is damaged or driven enough to not worry about who he angers along the way.

I’ll be reading more in the series when my reading hits its own dark nights, and I may dig our my books by the original Carmelites again for a refresher.