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review 2017-02-17 00:00
The Neon Rain
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke I first must confess that New Iberia is my hometown, and New Iberia also hosted a Dave Robicheaux festival last year, which they hoped to turn into an annual event. I read this book because I wanted a taste of home, but I did not get that. I got a taste of New Orleans, which is all fine and dandy, but it's no New Iberia.

The prose is wonderful, and it reads very quickly. James Lee Burke is a great writer linguistically, but this story sucked.

My biggest complaint is the women. They're either prostitutes or a mothering angel like Annie. I am so, so highly disappointed that Robicheaux's love interest is a Midwestern blonde, blue-eyed woman. Why not a Cajun? Why an outsider? And you know why? It's because Cajun women don't put up with this kind of nonsense. Annie needs to get some sense and leave Dave immediately. Annie was shown doing high class women things, such as playing a cello and her eyes watering while barbecuing. She is the ultimate projection of femininity: caring, motherly, forgiving, and completely disappointing. Annie mentions she has a job, but we never see her at that job, and she never really discusses it either. She is an ideal woman on a pedal stool that exists essentially for emotional labor and sex, not a real well-rounded character.

Yet with Dave, he gets to be well-rounded. Oh, yes, he struggles with alcoholism, his role in the Vietnam War, and murder, but the author still makes him seem emotional and gives him a sensibility. Dave doesn't engage with the explicit racism of the city, but he definitely engages with the implicit racism.I thought Dave was a decent character, if not somewhat irritating as the book progressed.

I wish Annie would have had an abortion. It would have made her a much more interesting character. Why does she have to be a saint while Robicheaux doesn't?

To further complicate matters, blacks are shown as prostitutes and servants, essentially, and are thrown in with poor whites. This is supposed to be New Orleans, and historically, New Orleans had rich, high class black people. Why are the high class blacks?

The ending sucks, and it makes me dislike the book more. It's relatively happy, but it's also annoying for some reason I can't quite figure out. He just quits and goes off into the sunset. Really? Really, dude? I'm considering classifying Robicheaux as an annoying character, but I'm not quite there yet. He's impulsive and does stuff that he knows is wrong, but somehow it turns out alright in the end because his actions are "honorable."

As a Cajun, it is frustrating to see Dave's alcoholism, mostly because alcoholism runs through Cajun families, and it is undeniably part of our culture. The grittiness? Yeah, that's part of our culture too, but it was still unenjoyable to read about it. It sucks to be reminded that no matter how high you get in life, alcoholism is always there in the background. It seems no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to escape the cruelty of the culture. Tourists might get to see the good and skip the bad, but those of us who grew up in it have few escape paths, except to leave Louisiana. I guess you can't get the good unless you accept the bad.

Even though this book is well written, it is still off-putting, especially because of Burke's portrayal of his female characters, Robicheaux's impulsiveness, and the depictions of blacks (even if it is somewhat historically accurate). I guess I was expecting something else. It's not a terrible book, but I want something different but still Cajun. I won't be continuing with this series, and I'll try to find other books with Cajun characters.
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review 2015-02-14 22:55
The Neon Rain Review
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke,Will Patton

If you're going to read The Neon Rain, by James Lee Burke, do yourself a favor and listen to it instead. I started reading the ebook, realized Will Patton did the narrating for the Audible edition, bought said audio book, and proceeded to have a great time. In fact, I'm going to split my rating this time around. The book (its story, anyway) gets four stars, and the performance gets five. So... 4.5, if you can dig it. Unfortunately, Patton doesn't narrate the next several books in the series. The second book (Heaven's Prisoners, which was made into a movie starring Alec Baldwin that I vaguely remember hating) isn't even available on audio. I will go on to say that the ebook is most definitely not worth the $11.99 price tag, but the audio book is worth every penny.


This was my first experience with James Lee Burke, and I was seduced by his smooth style. I couldn't stop asking myself, "Where the fuck has this author been all my life." The last time I said that about a writer was way back when I popped my Richard Laymon cherry. Burke writes like I think. I know that sounds weird, but let me explain. When I see someone sweating, I don't think, "Hey, that dude's perspiring." I think, "That dude looks like a glass of ice cold coke on a summer afternoon." You can snigger and laugh, or call me a pretentious author type all you want. It's the truth. It's how I'm wired. Obviously, James Lee Burke is wired the same way. If you like metaphors and similes, this Bud's for you. 


The story is your typical bayou-noir fair, with plenty of twists and turns, but I found myself enjoying the cadence of the story more than the story itself. Burke could have been talking about grizzlies mating with polar bears during a Coca Cola commercial shoot and I still would have been engaged. 


Now, I gotta bring this up because it actually made me pause in places. This book is dated as hell. Black people are referred to as negroes, and women are treated like objects. You will hear the most racist, sexist, classist bullshit coming from Detective Robicheaux. The book's told in first person, so everything you hear is from this man's mind. Some of the bigotry is slightly funny because it makes no sense. Not that bigotry makes any sense whatsoever, but here the terminology actually makes no sense. Example: The narrator is talking about degenerates and drops this little gem, "Like a group of roarin' homosexuals." Katy Perry started playing in my head and I envisioned Chris Colfer in a lion's costume playfully swiping at me and saying, "Rawr, big fella. Rawr!" 


In summation: If you can get past the dated nature of the piece, you should have some fun. I love the way Burke writes. His prose is so clean it outshines some of the plot problems that pop up. But, make no mistake about it, Will Patton's narration is the way to go, for sure.




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review 2014-08-15 00:00
The Neon Rain
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke I really like the gritty, hard boiled feel!  

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review 2013-10-11 22:50
The Neon Rain: A Dave Robicheaux Novel (Dave Robicheaux Mysteries)
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke I know of an acquiring editor who ran a board for new authors who not only counted Burke a favorite, but recommended him as an example of a beautiful prose style. From the almost 60 pages I got through, I can understand that. I didn't abandon this novel because I thought the writing anything less than top notch. The dialogue seems authentic and distinctive, there are descriptions of Louisiana that are evocative and lyrical coming through the first person narrative. This isn't rated two and a half stars because I think it's mediocre--it's simply I couldn't stomach it. Too dark, too gritty, too violent. I've got through some dark books--but this one didn't have glints of humor nor did the narrator/protagonist, Dave Robicheaux, provide any moral center. Around page 50 or so, Dave is being tortured--water boarded essentially--by what he recognizes as "spook" types. Problem was, by then, I couldn't see any moral distinction between their abuse of power and what he and his partner had done as cops in roughing up and threatening a potential witness and a bodyguard. I just felt assaulted by the book--the obscenities and racial epithets, the gritty, corrupt world, the violence. From what I read of it this might possibly be a good, even powerful book--but if, like me, your tolerance for the low-down dark side isn't high, you might want to skip this one.
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review 2013-05-21 00:00
The Neon Rain - James Lee Burke One of the movies on endless repeat with my best high school friend and I was The Big Easy with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin. That and a couple trips to New Orleans are the sum of my Louisiana experience, and yet, when I read Neon Rain I feel as if I'm there, ghosting alongside Dave Robicheaux as he investigates. Burke's writing is extremely evocative, in the very best way for the detective-centered mystery. A strong since of place, of the cultural gumbo of New Orleans and the surrounding rural area clinging to its heritage by fingertips. It also has an equally strong sense of a narrator in turmoil. It's a powerful book that begins with a New Orleans Police Department detective, Lt. Dave Robicheaux, visiting an former button man on death row, only to learn about a death threat against himself. Coincidentally, about two weeks ago, he discovered the body of a young black woman while he was fishing down by Lake Cataouatche. Something about the needle-tracks down her arm and her clothing bothers his instincts, and he starts hounding the rural sheriff's department to follow through with investigating her death ("Her young face looked like a flower unexpectedly cut from its stem.") Characterization in this book is riveting. Robicheaux is the cop with his own code who slowly learns no one else shares, that he's holding to values from another time. It's interesting to watch his gradual realization; he believes he's so cynical, so dialed in in the beginning, and he's a bit right. Early on, when he meets with the parish sheriff to request an autopsy for the drowned girl, he ends up in a contest of wills that nearly becomes disastrous. Back in New Orleans, he harasses a porno theater owner, looking for the word on who wants to kill him. Both times, he's so sure of his stance and the way to manipulate the situation for results--but then is surprised when it comes back at him. Slowly, it dawns that everyone is working their own angle. He suspects that, he halfway knows it, but he can't quite conceive the absolute depth of the dishonesty.Robicheaux also struggles with memories from the Vietnam war, and many of his coping strategies seem to stem from wartime experience. Its interesting being reminded of the psychological impact of a war that hasn't been on our cultural consciousness for twenty-five years, overshadowed by more recent ones in sand and desert. My dad was in Vietnam, and I remember that period in the 1980s when I kept bugging him to talk about his experiences, first because of Platoon and then later Born on the Fourth of July. That's the kind of book Burke has written, far-ranging and capable of recapturing a lost cultural time, and conjuring up memories of one's own. The lush descriptions of the setting are beautiful, and Burke does more with light and smells than any other mystery writer I can think of, immersing the reader in the scene. Yet when the action comes, it's powerful and direct, even if it takes place in flashbacks. His first sentence guaranteed I would keep reading: "The evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary."The ultimate connections between the unknown woman's drowning, the Columbians, the federal agents and the general are a bit confusing, but after some thought, I decided I rather liked it. How often is it, after all, that the right hand knows what the left does? It gives a bit more of a real-life feeling, where not all the odds and ends tie in, and sometimes people will act in ways that remain inscrutable. You can wonder, guess, and interpret but you might not ever know. There is a little more violence than my normal level of comfort, but its handled well. One section, the attempt to kill him in the parking garage seemed excessively showy and not particularly realistic. Still, it ended up being a powerful scene when he survived and the agent didn't. Downsides? Plotting a little chaotic. Robicheaux is a very tortured soul, which while very well done, is not always comfortable to read. A little more movie-level violence than it really needed. Political complications with Central America very typical then, very lost in history now and confusing, perhaps irrelevant? Still, an amazingly good read.I highly recommend it. Solid four stars, podjo.Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/05/30/the-neon-rain-by-james-lee-burke/where I can have even more fun with links.
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