If you’re a fan of crime novels, you’ve likely heard of James Lee Burke. This author has been winning accolades and critical acclaim for over 30 years. His works are known for their haunting atmosphere, vivid descriptions, and gripping plots. Whether you’re a seasoned Burke reader or just discovering him for the first time, this article will help you find the best books to read now.
A Brief Introduction to James Lee Burke
Before diving into Burke’s books, it’s worth taking a moment to learn a bit more about the man behind the pen.
James Lee Burke was born in Houston, Texas in 1936. He grew up in a large family and spent much of his childhood exploring the bayous and swamps of Louisiana, where his family moved when he was young. These early experiences would later influence his writing, as the Louisiana landscape and culture feature prominently in many of his novels.
After graduating from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, Burke worked as a land surveyor, a social worker, and a teacher before turning to writing full-time. His first novel, Half of Paradise, was published in 1965.
Since then, Burke has published over 30 books and counting, including crime novels, short story collections, and literary fiction. His most famous series features the character of Dave Robicheaux, a detective in the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department, and has been adapted into several films.
Burke’s writing style has evolved over the years, but his early works were known for their gritty realism and intense characters. His later works started incorporating elements of magical realism and the supernatural, creating a unique blend of genres. Despite these stylistic changes, Burke’s writing has always been marked by his powerful descriptions of the natural world and his ability to capture the complexities of human relationships.
Burke has won numerous awards for his writing, including two Edgar Awards for Best Novel, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. He currently lives in Montana with his wife, Pearl, where he continues to write and draw inspiration from the rugged landscape.
The Dave Robicheaux Series
The Dave Robicheaux series is a collection of crime novels written by James Lee Burke. The books are set in and around the bayous of Louisiana and follow the adventures of the titular character as he solves crimes and navigates the murky world of New Orleans crime. The series is widely regarded as Burke’s most popular and well-known work, and has won numerous awards and accolades.
The series is known for its gritty realism and vivid descriptions of the city and its inhabitants. Burke’s writing style is often described as haunting and atmospheric, with a strong sense of place and time.
The Neon Rain: A Thrilling Start
The Neon Rain is the first book in the series and sets the tone for the rest of the books. The book introduces readers to Dave Robicheaux, a Vietnam War veteran turned detective who is haunted by his past. The book sees Robicheaux investigating the murder of a young prostitute and getting involved in the dangerous world of New Orleans crime. The book is a thrilling start to the series and showcases Burke’s ability to create complex and compelling characters.
Heaven’s Prisoners: A Haunting Sequel
Heaven’s Prisoners is the second book in the series and sees Robicheaux settling down to a simpler life after the events of the first book. However, his past comes back to haunt him when he witnesses a plane crash and gets involved in a drug ring. The book is a haunting sequel that delves deeper into Robicheaux’s character and shows Burke’s ability to create an atmosphere that lingers long after the book is finished.
Black Cherry Blues: A Standout Book
Black Cherry Blues is another standout book in the series and won the Edgar Award for Best Novel. The book sees Robicheaux investigating the disappearance of a fellow Vietnam War veteran and getting involved in a dangerous web of corruption and deceit. The book is a gripping read that showcases Burke’s ability to create complex and multi-layered plots.
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead: A Movie Adaptation
In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead is another highly acclaimed book in the series and was turned into a movie starring Tommy Lee Jones. The book sees Robicheaux investigating the murder of a young woman and getting involved in a dangerous conspiracy involving a Hollywood film crew and a group of Confederate soldiers. The book is a masterful blend of crime fiction and Southern Gothic and showcases Burke’s ability to create a vivid and immersive world.
The Dave Robicheaux series is a must-read for fans of crime fiction and anyone who enjoys a good mystery. With its complex characters, gripping plots, and haunting atmosphere, the series is sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats.
The Holland Family Saga: A Rich and Compelling Tale
The Holland Family Saga is a captivating series of novels that chronicles the lives of various members of the Holland family, a prominent and influential family in Texas. Each book in the series is a standalone novel, but together they form a rich and compelling tapestry of the Holland family’s history.
The House of the Rising Sun: A Gripping Prequel
The House of the Rising Sun is an enthralling prequel to the Holland Family Saga that takes readers back in time to World War I. The book follows the story of a young Hackberry Holland, a member of the Holland family, as he fights in the war. Burke’s masterful blend of historical fiction and war novel makes for a gripping read that is hard to put down. Readers will be transported to a world of danger and sacrifice as they follow Hackberry Holland’s journey through the war.
But The House of the Rising Sun is more than just a war novel. It is a deeply moving story of love, loss, and redemption. Burke’s vivid descriptions of the war-torn landscape and the horrors of battle are contrasted with moments of tenderness and humanity, making for a truly unforgettable read.
The Jealous Kind: A Coming-of-Age Story
The Jealous Kind is a poignant coming-of-age story set in the 1950s. The book follows the story of Aaron Holland Broussard, a teenage boy coming to terms with the complexities of love and the changing world around him. Burke’s expert storytelling brings the era to life, capturing the social and cultural upheaval of the time.
But The Jealous Kind is more than just a period piece. It is a deeply emotional story that explores the universal themes of love, loss, and self-discovery. Burke’s characters are richly drawn and complex, and readers will find themselves deeply invested in their lives and struggles.
Exploring the Holland Family’s Legacy
The Holland Family Saga books are all worth reading on their own, but together they form a fascinating exploration of one family’s long and complicated history. From the horrors of war to the complexities of family relationships, Burke’s novels offer a rich and nuanced look at the Holland family’s legacy.
Readers will be drawn into the lives of the Holland family members, rooting for them through their triumphs and tragedies. Burke’s writing is both poetic and gritty, capturing the essence of life in all its messy, beautiful, and heartbreaking glory.
Overall, The Holland Family Saga is a must-read for fans of Burke’s writing and anyone who loves a rich, compelling story.
Standalone Novels Worth Reading
Burke has written many standalone novels that are just as gripping as his series. Here are three of the best:
Two for Texas: A Historical Adventure
Two for Texas is a historical adventure that takes place during the Texas Revolution. The book follows two escaped convicts, Hugh Allison and Hugh McDonald, as they journey across the state and get caught up in the revolution. The story is set in 1836, and the two men are on the run from the law after escaping from a Louisiana prison. They end up in Texas, where they find themselves in the middle of the fight for Texas’ independence from Mexico. Along the way, they encounter historical figures such as Sam Houston and James Bowie, and they have to decide which side they are on in the revolution.
The book is filled with action and adventure, as well as historical detail that brings the time period to life. Burke’s writing is vivid and engaging, and he does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the Texas Revolution.
White Doves at Morning: A Civil War Epic
White Doves at Morning is an epic novel set during the Civil War. The book follows a group of Texans as they try to survive the war and protect their families. The story is set in 1864, and the group of characters includes women, children, and men of all ages who are struggling to survive in a time of great turmoil.
The book is filled with historical detail, and Burke does an excellent job of capturing the reality of life during the Civil War. He also creates fully-realized characters who are easy to care about and root for. The book is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, and it is a must-read for anyone interested in the Civil War era.
The Lost Get-Back Boogie: A Tale of Redemption
The Lost Get-Back Boogie is a redemption story about a musician named Iry Paret who gets out of prison and tries to rebuild his life. The book is set in Louisiana, and it explores themes of love, loss, and the search for redemption.
Burke’s writing is lyrical and poetic, and he creates a vivid sense of place in the Louisiana setting. The characters are complex and fully-realized, and the story is both moving and thought-provoking. The Lost Get-Back Boogie is a great example of Burke’s ability to create stories that are both entertaining and meaningful.
Overall, these three standalone novels are excellent examples of Burke’s writing. Each one is unique and engaging, and they all showcase Burke’s talent for creating fully-realized characters and vivid settings. Whether you are a fan of Burke’s series or are new to his work, these standalone novels are definitely worth reading.
James Lee Burke is a master of his craft, and his books are must-reads for fans of crime fiction, historical fiction, and literary fiction. Whether you’re just starting out with Burke’s work, or you’re a longtime fan, these books are the best of the best and are sure to keep you engaged from start to finish.
What is James Lee Burke famous for?
James Lee Burke is a fantastic American writer, recipient of the Edgar Award, Grand Master Award, and Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts.
What is the best book written by James Lee Burke?
He is most famous for his Dave Robicheaux series and his books Black Cherry Blues and Cimarron Rose are particularly popular.
Where is James Lee Burke from?
He was born in Houston, Texas but now owns properties in Lolo, Montana, and New Iberia in Louisiana. He predominantly lives on his ranch in Montana.