I’ve been reading James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series in order and this was number eight. Since reading many different series, I had forgotten how much I missed Burke’s thoughtful, insightful and descriptive writing.
Dave, as usual, is faced with bad guys who know no mercy. They are beyond the pale in cruelty and are not afraid to demonstrate it in any way imaginable. Burning Angel doesn’t move far from these wicked characters, with each one, in my mind, worse than the one before.
Clete who was long ago Dave’s partner at the New Orleans Police Department, went awry in previous books, but is now on track (and legal) is a private investigator and is at Dave’s side when the ‘chips are down.’ This book is no exception and makes Dave’s character even stronger by contrasting the two personalities; that is Dave, more morally forgiving and Clete feeling and saying something like, ‘Dave, the dude will clock you out before you blink an eye, so you go first.’ That’s not a direct quote, but clearly shows the two differing personalities, never of which is totally right or totally wrong.
I took notes on some of my favorite lines which show Dave’s constant moral dilemma between right and wrong and the thoughts and feelings of some of the characters he encounters:
• “My cell partner told me today my head’s like a bad neighborhood that I shouldn’t go into by myself. ‘There was a time in my life (Dave’s) when I was the same way. I just didn’t know how to say it.’”
• “Smoke ‘em or bust ‘em, make their puds shrivel up and hide, Clete used to say. But how you take pride in wrapping razor wire around the soul of a man who in all probability was detested before he left the womb?”
Dave continues with his gracious way of apologizing for the decades of the white establishment treating their servants and blacks, in general, the ways of subservience. Unfortunately and Dave says this, ‘we taught them well’ meaning the efforts of past generations to make blacks feel condescending to white people, especially white officials. He says “But as I watched her walk with labored dignity toward her car in the parking lot, I wondered if I, too, had yielded to that old white pretense of impatient charity with people of color, as though somehow they were incapable of understanding our efforts on their behalf.” (On a personal note, from time to time I see it myself, a native and resident of north Florida, whereby an older black fellow will open a door for me, with his head down, not looking me in the eye and mumbling, yes’um, ma’m when I say thank you. It saddens me and I agree with Burke (Dave) that we taught them well. It saddens me every time it happens.)
Lastly, another character, who I expect to show up in the next of the series, is Helen Soileau, Dave’s partner at the New Iberia Police Department. She’s quite an interesting character who resonates with a different attitude, sexual and otherwise. I like her, and she adds to Dave's opinions about social values.
Since the book had so many characters with a number of sub-plots, I felt the ending didn’t, in my mind, wrap up as nicely as previous books in the series.
My Goodreads friend, Jim A., who had read the book many years ago, graciously offered to read it again, and answered some of those questions of mine. I had concluded correctly, but felt much better that my conclusions were supported by another friend who is familiar with Burke and Dave. Many thanks to Jim for his time and assessment of the ending.
Great read, and hopefully, next time will not stay as long absent from James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux. Although it’s been said many times before, Burke’s lyrical writing, sometimes sing-song, is simply wonderful in my mind. His writing makes me think beyond the written words.