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James Lee Burke, Sunset Limited


When it comes to literate and violent motifs in a major detective series James Lee Burke has few peers. For more than two decades the Dave Robicheaux detective series has blossomed and each of the recent novels have been lauded by critics. Burke is a major force in American crime. This edition contains an appreciation by bestselling mystery and suspense writer Michael Connelly.

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Following early attempts at literary fiction and a thriller issued by a university press James Lee Burke found a niche with the Dave Robicheaux detective novel Neon Rain (1987). It was a breakthrough that quickly earned him an Edgar for best mystery with Black Cherry Blues, his third novel in the series. This book, like the others in the series is about a deep feeling for the South, human dignity and redemption. What Burke brings to the genre is an emotional engagement; listen to this: “. . . I had found the edge. The place where you unstrap all your fastenings to the earth, to what you are what you have been, where you flame out on the edge of the spheres, and the sun and moon become eclipsed and the world below is as dead and remote and without interest as if it were glazed with ice. ”

Plotline from the James Lee Burke site for Sunset Limited (1998): Forty years ago, a local labour 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.

James Lee Burke has become the foremost American crime writer of his time. Although an entertainer Burke’s Robicheaux series (now extending to eighteen dense novels) marks out an outstanding achievement in creating a much followed flawed character with real depth and in extending the crime genre into areas of wider social concern. Jim’s colleague and admirer Michael Connelly provides us with his insights into the writer in his appreciation. The Scorpion Press edition comprised 110 numbered and signed copies and a further 16 lettered for presentation purposes.

4.50 out of 5

2 reviews for James Lee Burke, Sunset Limited

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Publishers Weekly on May 29, 2012 :

    After stepping into stand-alone territory with Cimmaron Rose (1997), Burke choreographs a masterful return to the lush and brooding world of volatile New Iberia Sheriff’s Deputy Dave Robicheaux (Cadillac Jukebox, 1996). This tale’s strength lies in breathtaking, moody descriptive passages and incisive vignettes that set time, place and character. Burke’s major themes, that the past is key to the present and that money buys power, pervade this mystery. The narrative, with more twists and bounces than a fish fighting a hook, rises from the violent, unsolved murder 40 years ago of union organizer Jack Flynn. The story encompasses at least eight disparate but interlocking subplots: the crooked money behind a movie directed by Flynn’s son Cisco; the hold that ex-con Swede Boxleiter has on Cisco’s photojournalist sister, Megan; Willie “”Cool Breeze”” Broussard’s theft of a mob warehouse; his wife Ida’s suicide 20 years ago; the shooting of two white brothers who raped a black woman; alcoholic Lisa Terrebonne’s haunted childhood; her wealthy, arrogant father’s ties to Harpo Scruggs, a vicious murderer; the post-Civil War killing by freed slaves of a Terrebonne servant. Hired assassins, snitches, lawmen and FBI agents weave through the novel. Dave and his partner Detective Helen Soileau find the connections, but Dave knows that in the ongoing class war, the worst criminals wield too much influence to pay for their crimes. In rich, dense prose, Burke conjures up bizarre, believable characters who inhabit vivid, spellbinding scenes in a multifaceted, engrossing plot. Publishers Weekly

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Michael Connelly on May 29, 2012 :

    Extract from the Appreciation by Michael Connelly

    The wrong guy is writing this. I believe the essays of appreciation you find in the fronts of books should be written by scholars of the genre or masters of the craft or, at the very least, colleagues of equal peer. I am none of these things. Therefore I feel both honoured and humbled as I write this and ultimately lacking. For James Lee Burke has no equal peer. And though there are masters of the craft of writing in general and the crime novel in particular, all of them could still learn something from this writers’ writer. And I believe that there is little doubt that the scholars will be reading and rereading his prose well into the new millennium. “The evening sky was streaked with purple, the colour of torn plums . . . ” Those were the first words of James Lee Burke I ever read. And I distinctly remember making the discovery. I had read no review, seen no advertisement, knew nothing about this book or its writer. I was simply browsing in a book store in Los Angeles and happened to open up The Neon Rain. This was more than a decade ago at a time when I was just putting together the thoughts on how I soon would begin to write my first novel. Reading that first line from Burke changed me from a browser to a buyer and, ultimately, to a believer. For my first line instincts were right. I had stumbled onto something rare. I had found the real thing, a writer whose work transcends genre and elevates it to art. With a single line of words I knew it. Burke had entered my conscious and flipped on the movie projector of imagination. I could see his words. I could see his magic. Reading the full book confirmed it – a confirmation renewed with each novel Burke has written since. A confirmation sure to be renewed within the pages here. You should know, I wrote the line above from memory. The copy of The Neon Rain I bought that day has long since disappeared as I loaned it over and over again to those who came to my shelves to borrow. Eventually, it did not return and I like to think it is still out there somewhere and still in motion, being read and then passed on again and again. But without the book in hand I remember that first line always.

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