The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

Five years before Michael Connelly began his Harry Bosch series, James Lee Burke started Dave Robicheaux series. Set in New Orleans and environs, Robicheaux is a detective of the New Orleans police force. A Vietnam vet, a recovering alcoholic and a divorcee, Robicheaux’s list of demons is long and one that he constantly battles. The part of Robicheaux that is true is his police work — he is a good detective.

The Neon Rain starts as thus:

The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary.

Burke’s writing is more poetic than most police procedurals, but the character and action are still plentiful and exciting. Along with his fluid prose, Burke’s Robicheaux is a character that is still developing; the detective is far from being a complete man.

On Robicheaux’s visit to the state penitentiary, he finds out there may be hit on him. He is unsure to believe it or not, but with his partner, Cletus Parcel, go to invesitigate with a lot of intimidaiton.

Potts’s eyes were small and hot and staring straight ahead.

“Lighten up,” Cletus said. “You’re a businessman, you pay taxes, you’re reasonable. You just got diarrhea of the mouth and you been spreading rumors around, and we want to know why you been doing that. It’s no big deal. Just straighten us out about this strange stuff we heard, and you can get back to entertaining the perverts. Look at the material you got here. This is classy stuff.” Cletus began to bang through the film cans on the wooden rack. He picked up one in both hands and looked at the penciled title with a critical eye. “This one is state-of-the-art porn, Dave. In one scene a guy kills a naked broad with a nail gun. She screams and begs, but the guy chases her around the house and staples pieces of her all over the woodwork.” Cletus opened the can, held on to one end of the film, and dropped the reel bouncing on the floor. He held the film strip up to the light. “The funny thing, Wes, is sometimes a John goes apeshit and tears a hooker up, and I get the feeling that maybe the guy just finished eating popcorn out there in your theater. What do you think?”

The investigation takes them into the world on Latin American gangsters who basically have everyone scared, even the bad guys. If the Robicheaux series is half as good as The Neon Rain that will give me plenty of reading to do over the next few years.

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