Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daddy or the Daughter? Reading the Burkes back to back

For several years now I have been an avid reader and audio book listener of the works of James Lee Burke. The man's word pictures steal away my breath. His complex, very human characters always intrigue me. The man simply writes some of the most STUNNING sentences I've ever encountered after over 40 years of reading hundreds and hundreds of books.

Then recently I got my first taste of his daughter Alafair's work. While both write murder mysteries they are completely different in style. I must say I got far more caught up in the suspense of Alafair's writing. But after finishing her book 212 I returned to one of JLB's earlier works,Sunset Limited. It did not have me on the edge of my seat waiting to learn what was going to happen next the way Alafair's book did. Instead it had me absolutely mesmerized with what was happening NOW due to the amazing language.

I think I like her plots better. I definitely like his sentences better.

Setting is another big difference between the two. Alafair's series takes place in New York City. Dave Robicheaux is a Cajun cop in New Iberia, Louisiana.

I love the sense of place in those bayou books.

Granted, the elder Burke has written other books in other settings, but the ones that completely capture my heart are the misadventures of Nam vet and drunk-in-recovery Robicheaux and his hilarious sidekick in the pork pie hat, Clete Pursel. I've read so many of these I feel like these two guys are old friends.

I'm sure I will read more of Alafair's work. I very much enjoyed 212 (both the area code for NYC and the building number for the murder that occurs in the opening scene of the novel). But when it gets right down to it, my all time favorite writer is still the grand master, James Lee Burke. The voice he brings to his novels is so rich and complex, filled with undercurrents of visceral themes and failed humanity.

Alafair's writing is taunt, driven, full of surprises.

Comparing the two is like asking me if I like chocolate or peanuts better. They are entirely different. But the combination of reading them both back to back is absolutely delicious. Pass the Reeses peanut butter cups please, and hand me another novel.

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