Tuesday, April 14, 2009
More of the Bayou
Hot on the heels of In the Electric Mists with Confederate Dead, I whipped through another book in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux series on the weekend. Sunset Limited was similarly gripping and atmospheric, a perfect lazy long weekend read. We even (finally) had some rain here which was quite appropriate given the almost constant rain in Burke's New Iberia, Louisiana.
Sunset Limited is a more complicated story than In the Electric Mists... and I think it suffers a little for it. There are lots of characters, some of whom only last a chapter or two, and I will somewhat shamefacedly admit I had to flick back now and then to remind myself who was who. Characters are often introduced only to be killed (usually very violently- a warning to more faint hearted readers) pages later. All the plot threads are unravelled by the end but I think the story could have been told with greater clarity.
That said, the story was pacy and compelling. It centers around an unsolved murder from Dave's past in which a labour organiser, Jack Flynn, was crucified and left for dead on the side of a local barn. Jack Flynn's two adult children, Cisco and Megan, return to the town at the beginning of the novel and this forces the town to address some old demons from their community's history.
Burke touches on some interesting ideas in Sunset Limited. His characters are forced to acknowledge a violent history in their town that many would rather forget. There is also an interesting dissection of the class system in New Iberia as we see the relationship between rich plantation owners and the poorer working class whites and blacks in town. Dave Robicheaux challenges the local philosophy that only the poor ever really pay for their crimes. There is also the obvious Christian imagery of the crucifixion which is linked in to the idea of the town's need for redemption. Burke doesn't hit the reader in the face with these bigger concepts- they could be ignored if plot is all you're after- but they give a greater depth to what could be a fairly ordinary crime story
I really enjoyed this novel but in some ways I feel it is less than the sum of its parts. I thought a more unifying thread was needed to bring everything together successfully. As expected, Burke creates his world of New Iberia in gorgeous rich detail, but maybe at times he needed to hold back a little and not give the reader so much of everything when it comes to plot.