New Orleans Police Department detective screw-up turned New Iberia, LA Police Detective DAVE ROBICHEAUX is the Great Lost P.I , no matter whether he wears a badge or not. For all the attention he pays to the regulations, it's a wonder he's a cop at all.
The guy just doesn't fit in, doesn't follow the rules, takes the law into his own hands when it suits him, and gets personally involved in every case he's ever worked on, it seems. And he doesn't give a fuck. And yet, somehow, despite the odds, he's still a cop. Author James Lee Burke even lets him be a private op for a while, teaming him up with his former NOPD partner Cleetus, but then he let it slide. Too bad -- Dave is a natural P.I.
Burke writes like a dream, offering a keenly evocative sense of place rarely matched in crime fiction (the closest I can come up with is Chandler's Los Angeles), and his depictions of the the back roads and bayous of rural Loiusiana verge on poetry. You can smell the bayous, taste the spices of the food, hear the wind whistle through the trees and the canebreaks.
Sure, the series has at times devolved into formula. The number of ex-girlfriends wandering back into Dave's life, desperately needing his help, for example, is staggering. And every book seems to have a scene where Batiste, Dave's handyman, heading down to the boathouse to prep the barbeque for the day while Dave slurps an ice-cold Dr. Pepper, watching the condensation bead on the can, as the sun burns off the mist rising on the bayou.
And ever since the pivotal and genre-hopping In the Electric Mist with the Confederate Dead (1993), in which Dave, having fallen off the wagon, begins to believe a dead Civil War general is guiding him from the grave, one might quibble that there have been a few too many dead people popping up in the books to offer him help on his cases.
But that's really nitpicking, because when he's on his game, Burke is a powerful and masterful writer. No matter how many times he describes that boathouse scene, my mouth still starts to watering, and I swear I can almost smell the bittersweet woodsmoke. And every dead person that refuses to stay dead is just one more reminder that the past is always with us, and that even the most damned of us might, just might, have a shot at redemption.
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Heaven's Prisoners was made into 1996 film starring Alec Baldwin as Dave, but the results were far from satisfying. All of Burke's sensuous evocation of the bayous is missing -- the film could have been shot in New Jersey. And Baldwin, one of the producers, was just completely miscast. Rumours abound that Tommy Lee Jones has purchased the film rights for a couple of Burke novels, Dixie City Jam and In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead proved to be accurate, but the result, In the Electric Mist (2009) proved to be disappointing. Although ragged, cragged Jones was well cast, director Bertrand Tavernier seemed to envision Dave as a sort of Cajun Mike Hammer.
More recently, Burke has created another troubled almost-PI, Deaf Smith, Texas defense lawyer Billy Bob Holland -- who also occasionally gets advice from beyond the pale.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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