In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke

As noted recently in my book beginning, Burke is an old favorite. Between this book’s title and its colorful cover, I felt especially drawn to it. The electric mist and the Confederate dead are some of the odder, more alluring moments in this story, too, but they are not its center.

Detective Dave Robicheaux is the star of Burke’s bestselling series. In this installment, he’s at home in New Iberia, a small community on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. There’s a movie production in town, which brings with it various complications of the local scene: a group of gangsters come in from New Orleans; the Hollywood actors drive drunk and make trouble; several girls turn up dead in what looks like the work of a serial killer; and a body surfaces that relates to an event in Robicheaux’s own distant past. He continues to attend AA meetings and his alcoholism continues to be one of the sources of conflict in the story. There are some weird, almost paranormal forces at work – or are they just the manifestations of his alcoholism? – and that keeps things interesting and colorful.

This book shares certain themes with all Burke’s work, including racial injustice that persists in the South; a love of nature (and some outstanding, lovely writing conveying the natural beauties of south Louisiana); struggles with alcoholism; and corruption in positions of authority, manifested in the conflicts Robicheaux has with his workplace superiors. One of Burke’s greatest strengths, in my opinion, is the strong sense of place that he conveys with his lovely, lyrical writing. He waxes poetic about the beauty of nature; and both the natural setting and the cultural references evoke south Louisiana unmistakably. His stories, it seems, could be set nowhere else. (This is not true. Swan Peak is set in Montana and is equally successful. But my point about a strong sense of place stands.) While his plots are interesting and his mysteries do indeed keep the reader on her toes, Burke’s beautiful writing and obvious care for natural and cultural settings are the best and most unique parts of his work. I feel that his closest readalike author is Michael Connelly. Connelly’s writing is not nearly as lyrical, but his strong sense of Los Angeles, and Detective Bosch’s love for jazz and LA, and the dark, brooding mood both authors create, make them a matched pair in my view.

In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead is vintage (1993), classic James Lee Burke, and thus strongly recommended.

Rating: 7 crawfish poboys.

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