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Release Date: June, 1998
Imagine Philip Marlowe sans the cigarettes and in AA. Put him in Louisiana and jump forward 50 years or so and you've got David Robicheaux, a tough-talking detective with the same soft spot as his prototype for troublesome women and for delving into places into which he probably has no business. New Iberia, Louisiana, perfectly rivals Marlowe's L.A. for its grit and corruption and dames who'll turn a good guy bad. James Lee Burke's 11th Robicheaux book, Sunset Limited, is a twisted mystery that at times becomes almost byzantine in its attempt to keep disparate characters and narratives wound in a cohesive story line. But Burke's writing is so stunning that all is forgiven as you become immersed in the tale, which meshes past and present to uncover the secret of a decades-old murder. Forty years ago, a local labor leader was crucified in a crime that remains unsolved. Now, his daughter--Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Megan Flynn--returns to New Iberia. With a seemingly insignificant remark to Robicheaux, she begins a chain of events that lead right back to her father's death. New Iberia, in some sense, is frozen in time as the age-old problems of race and class weave their way into the mystery, complicating Robicheaux's discovery of not only the original crime, but the wealth of murders that spring up along the way. Add in the Chinese mob, corrupt policemen, and a Hollywood film shoot, and the stage is set. Burke's forte is his ability to create characters so evil they're liable to get you up in the night to check in your closet and under your bed. The players--both good and bad--are characterized more by their flaws than their attributes, giving everyone a wicked sheen. The book isn't overly gory (although short descriptions can be rather graphic), but everyone has a dark side, emphasizing the noir-ish tones of the novel. His writing is powerful, mixing tender landscapes ("[W]e dropped through clouds that were pooled with fire in the sunrise and came in over biscuit-colored hills dotted with juniper and pine and pinyon trees...") with dead-on, cutting descriptions ("His face was tentacled with a huge purple-and-strawberry birthmark, so that his eyes looked squeezed inside a mask") and the camp dialogue of Chandler ("Evil doesn't have a zip code"). Oddly, these sundry elements blend seamlessly, allowing you to overlook tenuous connections and occasionally confusing turns. Don't pick this up expecting a happy ending. But for those who long for a modern-day Chandler, you'll find Sunset Limited a gripping and satisfying read. --Jenny Brown
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Posted by Bill Laine on 6/15/1998
The charachters and plot are a murky Louisiana swamp of motivation and allegiances but Robicheaux works through it in his steadfast way. Dave is back with the sherrif's department, he is OK with Bootsy and Alafair, Clete helps and needs help, the visions stay away. Dave is the moral center in a complex world of ego and greed. Burke is one of the best. This book may not be the best introduction to his work but fans should enjoy it. I did.
Posted by Anonymous on 4/16/1999
Dave Robicheaux continues to lurch onward as a decent and principaled man surviving in the dark underbelly of bayou life and culture. Dave does not always do the right thing in all situations, but he sure tries hard. Burke's writing is as solid as ever, and in this one, the reader understands almost all of what his charaters are talking about. Burke manages to be both violent and poetic at the same time. It's just hard to be satisfied with anyone else after reading one of Burke's dark drama's. This is one of his best recent efforts.
Posted by Anonymous on 12/2/2000
It's funny that many readers thought this was one of Burke's worst books. I thought it was his best. The "villains" in the story were inspired, beginning with the loyal psychopath Swede Boxleiter, who retains amusing habits from his days as an abused orphan (walking on his hands, acrobatics on tree limbs). Harpo Scruggs was an oily redneck assassin who was despicable yet still garnered pity. And the two latter misanthropes--Ruben Esteban and a Canadian bounty hunter--were memorable as well. Does Burke use mugshots when he thinks up his psychopaths? Many of these characters seem vaguely familiar. It's as if I've seen them on the periphery of my own life. The beauty of Burke's writing lies in his expert characterizations. He gives even the most demented sociopaths redeeming qualities that erase the fine line between black and white. And the scene with Clete Purcell chasing Ricky Scarlotti after using a plumber's helper on him was classic, both rousing and sobering, with an unexpected complication. James Lee Burke excels at brevity, knowing just when to end the action to leave the reader breathless. The climax of Sunset Limited is a poignant tribute to "Casablanca". It really doesn't matter how original the plot is, Burke's vivid characters make it seem new and interesting. And I enjoy the way he finds evil in the least anticipated setting, sitting with affluent neighbors on a patio enjoying a glass of lemonade...