The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

September 12, 2010

Phyllis Sessengood, book review: Thriller captures essence, ambiance of Louisiana

By Phyllis Sessengood
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — “The Glass Rainbow” by James Lee Burke (compact disc audiobook)

Dave Robicheaux, a Cajun detective with the New Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Department, is a Vietnam veteran damaged by the war and haunted by demons from the past. Dave’s best friend, private investigator Clete Purcel, has been tracking a scoundrel whose body is found in a canal.

Dave and Clete -- both alcoholics, one recovering and the other not -- find themselves working on another murder case together. Is there a serial killer on the prowl?

The raped and mutilated bodies of seven young women are discovered in nearby Jeff Davis Parish. However, Dave and Clete’s focus is on a young black teenage girl who doesn’t fit the profile of the other dead girls.

The victim, Bernadette Latiolais, was a high school honor student who had received a full college scholarship. She had inherited some land that someone apparently wanted enough to kill for É Is it someone representing the interests of big oil?

Although the murders are out of Dave’s jurisdiction, this doesn’t stop Dave and Clete from doing whatever they consider necessary to solve the crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Clete’s unstable temper results in trouble after he beats a drug dealing pimp, who later is discovered dead. Dave also finds himself defending his self-destructive friend.

Meanwhile, Dave’s adopted daughter, Alifair, a law student and aspiring novelist, is romantically involved with another novelist, Kermit Abelard. (Burke has a daughter also named Alifair, who is a mystery novelist). Kermit’s best friend, Robert Weingart, an ex-con with a best-selling memoir, offers to help Alifair get her novel published.

Dave is unhappy with his daughter’s relationship with Kermit, but even more so when the investigation directs some suspicion on Kermit.

Kermit is the grandson of prominent and wealthy Southern patriarch Timothy Abelard, a former defense industrialist who gained his wealth primarily through dirty deals. The Abelards have a dark family history with ties to the mafia and other dubious characters. Dave discovers Kermit’s connection to an organization that funded Bernadette’s scholarship, although Kermit denies at first that he ever knew her.

As more deaths occur, including that of a wealthy self-made investment tycoon whose wife is a tennis-playing dominatrix, Dave believes he and his family could be in grave danger. He finds himself up against hooded, black-ops, paramilitary men hired as assassins by corporations.

I love the way Burke writes so eloquently of his native Louisiana. His writing is beautiful, almost poetic, and his descriptions of the landscape are magnificent, even breathtaking.

Burke writes: “The Abelards had paneled their sunporch with stained-glass images of unicorns and satyrs and monks at prayer and knights in armor that shone like quicksilver, turning the interior of their home into a kaleidoscopic medieval tapestry. Or perhaps, better said, they had created a glass rainbow that awakened memories of goodness and childhood innocence, all of it to hide the ruination they had brought to the Caribbean-like fairyland they had inherited.”

His memorable characters, which often use colorful dialogue, are well developed and the novel is populated with truly evil villains. His extraordinary writing style has me hooked! If only I had discovered this author years ago.

Burke’s novel is a dark tale of violence, conspiracy and betrayal with themes of good and evil. The author weaves a web of suspense; the intricate plot is replete with tension-filled twists and turns that had me riveted to the wild, heart-pounding ending (which leaves the reader hanging).

“The Glass Rainbow” is the 18th in the Dave Robicheaux series. This thriller can be read as a stand-alone novel, because the author provides necessary background information. Burke’s novel is an excellent read and makes me wish I had the time to start at the beginning and read the whole series.  

Will Patton presents an incredible narration of this audiobook, providing the accents and capturing the essence of Dave, that of the other characters, and of Dave’s beloved Louisiana.