But does anyone really read Burke expecting a coherent narrative? We’re hanging on for Robicheaux’s pensées, like his meditation on the living spirits of the dead... We’re keeping an eye out for vivid characters like Bella Delahoussaye... Maybe most of all, we’re waiting for those angry outbursts when Robicheaux lets it rip... [This reviewer would spend a few days in a parish prison] [o]nly if there’s a new James Lee Burke novel in the cell.
[Burke's] latest exploration of good and evil offers a cast of southern grotesque characters worthy of Flannery O’Connor ... Burke is an old hand at this game, and he juggles deeply flawed characters, several subplots, and dark humor with the vivid prose that draws comparisons to William Faulkner ... None of it feels out of place, and everything propels the complex plots to a jarring collision at the end. It’s a long strange trip, but worth every second. Nobody else can tell a story like James Lee Burke. Fortunately, most writers know better than to try.
You don’t have to get past the opening paragraph of The New Iberia Blues to see his mastery of [Burke's] craft ... It is a long book, but I read it slowly, pausing from time to time to digest the first-rate prose, the atmospheric bayou setting and the complex interactions of people I feel I have known for 30-plus years.
At 82, Burke just keeps getting better, his familiar theme of an idyllic past at war with a demon-drenched present taking on more subtle levels of meaning; his storied lyricism drawing on a new range of powerfully resonant minor chords ... And, yet, there are signs of hope here—even a glimmer of marriage between past and present—that give the novel a new dimension, but not before an all-stops-out finale with the power of cannon fire in the '1812 Overture.'
The author devotes considerable space to his characters’ ponderings, some of it engaging, much of it tedious and sophomoric. At several points I wanted to say, 'Just get back to the story' ... Just about every incidental character is compelling and human, and it’s often the case that bad people may do good things ... This is a rambling story. The plot is not without its flaws, and Mr. Burke’s prose can become prolix. The resolution is a little too pat and also abrupt, but in the balance, it’s worth taking the time and patience to get there.
Though much is the same, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke continues to find subtle new ways to keep his long-running series, now twenty-two books in, fresh and timely ... Much like C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, the true magic of Burke’s series doesn’t take place in the mystery itself, but rather the moments between plot points when readers are able to spend time with Robicheaux and the rest of his masterfully developed cast. At this point, James Lee Burke could probably write about Dave and Clete hanging out and running errands and readers would likely plunk down cash just to follow them around and be part of their universe once a year. Of course, that’s not to say that the mystery isn’t a huge focal point, or that Burke is phoning it in. In fact, he’s done just the opposite. Whereas most writers are losing steam this deep into their respective franchises, Burke can still twist plot threads together with the best of them — and just when you think you know how his latest offering is going to play out, he pulls out one surprise after another ... You’d be hard pressed to find a more talented mystery writer still working today than James Lee Burke.
Many of the character types, plot devices, and oracular sentiments are familiar from Burke’s earlier books. But the sentences are brand new, and the powerful emotional charge they carry feels piercingly new as well.