August 2020 marks the publication of James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, and if you’ve never before read this legendary author’s stories, you are in for a treat. Burke’s novels are escapist gems, transporting readers to colorful regions of the country and transcending the crime genre he often writes in to offer wise insights on the nature of humanity as well as sociological observations that could only be gleaned from the author’s decades-long career monitoring our nation’s evolution. Burke mines the complexities in communities and individuals to capture how people can go so wrong—like criminal activity and corruption–and so right, like their commitments to love and faith. Regardless of which James Lee Burke novel you decide to pick up (many of the recurring series can be read as stand-alones) you’re sure to be satisfied, but if you’re at a loss where to start, here are a few of our favorites.
5 of Our Favorite Escapist Gems by Legendary Author James Lee Burke
The first novel to introduce Burke’s most beloved character, THE NEON RAIN follows Dave Robicheaux, a New Orleans homicide detective, as he investigates the murder of a young prostitute whose body is discovered in the Bayou. As Robicheaux discovers ties to organized crime, drug smugglers, and arms dealers, he also becomes the target of fellow law enforcement actively working to keep the truth hidden.
From New York Times bestselling author James Lee Burke comes his definitive, must-read first title in his famous Dectective David Robicheaux series.
New Orleans Detective Dave Robicheaux has fought too many battles: in Vietnam, with police brass, with killers and hustlers, and the bottle. Lost without his wife's love, Robicheaux haunts the intense and heady French Quarter—the place he calls home, and the place that nearly destroys him when he beomes involved in the case of a young prostitute whose body is found in a bayou. Thrust into the seedy world of drug lords and arms smugglers, Robicheaux must face down the criminal underworld and come to terms with his own bruised heart and demons to survive.
Legendary criminals Bonnie and Clyde make an appearance early on in this thrilling historical epic, when sixteen-year-old Weldon Holland catches a brief glimpse of the dynamic duo after one of their infamous robberies. Years later, as Weldon fights in WWII, the memory of Bonnie Parker still haunts him even as he falls in love and marries a beautiful prisoner of war. The couple returns to Texas, and Weldon, along with an army buddy turned business partner, encounter a predatory oil tycoon desperate to protect his interests. The situation comes to a boil when said tycoon targets the men’s wives, and Weldon takes inspiration from the long-ago encounter with the romantic outlaws in order to save the woman he loves.
In his most ambitious work yet, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life.
In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun, unsure whether it hit its mark.
Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein—a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.
In just a few years’ time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless act yet—one inspired by that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth.
A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller, Wayfaring Stranger "is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream" (Benjamin Percy, Poets & Writers).
Having retired from the force and left the trials and temptations of New Orleans behind, Dave Robicheaux is enjoying a more tranquil life with his wife, Annie. Then a plane crashes in the Gulf near their home, and Dave and Annie rescue a young girl from the debris. They adopt her, finally creating the happy family they’ve always wanted, but little do they realize that her survival sets off a chain reaction involving a local drug kingpin and government agents, putting them all in danger.
James Lee Burke’s second Robicheaux novel takes the detective out of New Orleans and into the bayou as he seeks a quieter life.
Vietnam vet Dave Robicheaux has turned in his detective’s badge, is winning his battle against booze, and has left New Orleans with his wife for the tranquil beauty of Louisiana’s bayous. But a plane crash on the Gulf brings a young girl into his life—and with her comes a netherworld of murder, deception, and homegrown crime. Suddenly Robicheaux is confronting Bubba Rocque, a brutal hood he’s known since childhood; Rocque’s hungry Cajun wife; and a Federal agent with more guts than sense. In a backwater world where a swagger and a gun go further than the law, Robicheaux and those he loves are caught on a tide of violence far bigger than them all...
Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Burke’s debut novel follows a Korean war veteran and blues singer who’s just completed a sentence at Louisiana’s Angola State Penitentiary after a barroom brawl with fatal consequences. Hoping for a clean slate, he follows a fellow parolee to the ex-convict’s family’s ranch in Montana, but once there, tragedy and local disputes lead to less than calm outcomes.
Iry Paret's done his time -- two years for manslaughter in Louisiana's Angola State Penitentiary. Now the war vet and blues singer is headed to Montana, where he hopes to live clean working on a ranch owned by the father of his prison pal, Buddy Riordan. In prison, Iry tinkered with a song -- "The Lost Get-Back Boogie" -- that never came out quite right. Now, the Riordan family's problems hand him a new kind of trouble, with some tragic consequences. And Iry must get the tune right at last, or pay a fateful price.
Trouble always seems to find Dave Robicheaux, and this time it finds him caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries and their youngest heirs who have unexpectedly fallen in love. In the midst of this forbidden romance, one father—furious at Dave’s involvement—summons a mysterious and supernatural assassin to punish Dave using his own demons—alcoholism, Vietnam combat memories, and specters of women he’s loved and lost—against him. Expertly mixing crime, romance, mythology, horror, and science fiction, James Lee Burke’s fortieth book is ultimately a tribute to the all-consuming, all-conquering power of love.
After finding himself caught up in one of Louisiana’s oldest and bloodiest family rivalries, Detective Dave Robicheaux must battle the most terrifying adversary he has ever encountered: a time-traveling superhuman assassin.
The Shondell and Balangie families are longtime enemies in the New Iberia criminal underworld and show each other no mercy. Yet their youngest heirs, Johnny Shondell and Isolde Balangie, rock and roll-musician teenagers with magical voices, have fallen in love and run away after Isolde was given as a sex slave to Johnny’s uncle.
As he seeks to uncover why, Detective Dave Robicheaux gets too close to both Isolde’s mother and the mistress of her father, a venomous New Orleans mafioso whose jealousy has no bounds. In retribution, he hires a mysterious assassin to go after Robicheaux and his longtime partner, Clete Purcel. This hitman is unlike any the “Bobbsey Twins from Homicide” have ever faced. He has the ability to induce horrifying hallucinations and travels on a menacing ghost ship that materializes without warning. In order to defeat him and rescue Johnny and Isolde, Robicheaux will have to overcome the demons that have tormented him throughout his adult life—alcoholism, specters from combat in Vietnam, and painful memories of women to whom he opened his heart only to see killed.
A Private Cathedral, James Lee Burke’s fortieth book, is his most powerful tale, one that will captivate readers—mixing crime, romance, mythology, horror, and science fiction to produce a thrilling story about the all-consuming, all-conquering power of love.