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By James Lee Burke

Island Books, (July 1999) Paperback, 387 pages. $7.50
ISBN 0-440-22398-9

Review by Larry Jung

There are two reasons for book reviews. One is to get you to read the book (the publisher hopes after you buy it). The second, so people don't have to actually read the book. Saying that, I want to say from the beginning go out and buy SUNSET LIMITED and read it.

Long time fans of James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels will not be disppointed. All the things that they have enjoyed about the previous novels are here. For those who have never read the Robicheaux books, let me tell you what I like about SUNSET LIMITED.

The Robicheaux books are about family and community. Within a rich evocation of the Lousiana bayou, Burke spins a mystery about family skeletons haunting the children. This time, Robicheaux must make amends for a community that turned its back on the murder-crucification of Megan Flynn's father for being a labor leader. Years later, Megan returns to New Iberia and violence flares up with Robicheaux caught in the middle. To uncover the truth means exposing the moral rot from the richest to the poorest family in New Iberia. The cast of characters is sharpely drawn. The dialogue is a cross between a Tennese Williams' play and a Hemingway book. Listen to this between Robicheaux and his wife Bootsie.

"That night, as Bootsie and I prepared to go to bed, dry lightning flickered behind the clouds and the pecan tree outside the window was stiffening in the wind. "Why do you think Jack Flynn was killed?" Bootsie asked. "Working people around here made thirty-five cents an hour back then. He didn't have a hard time finding an audience." "Who do you think did it?" "Everyone said it came from the outside. Just like during the Civil Rights era. We always blamed our problems on the outside." She turned out the light and we lay down on top of the sheets. Her skin felt cool and warm at the same time, the way sunlight does in the fall. "The Flynns are trouble, Dave." "Maybe." "No, no maybe about it. Jack Flynn might have been a good man. But I always heard he didn't become a radical until his family got wiped out in the Depression." "He fought in the Lincoln Brigade. He was at the battle of Madrid." "Good night," she said. She turned toward the far wall. When I spread my hand on her back I could feel her breath rise and fall in her lungs. She looked at me over her shoulder, then rolled over and fit herself inside my arms. "Dave?" she said. "Yes?" "Trust me on this. Megan needs you for some reason she's not telling you about...."

An important part of any story for me is the writer's ability to establish a vivid sense of place. Burke's descriptions make you squint from the bright bayou sun and your arm pits sweat from the bayou heat.

Robicheaux describes going to warn off a corrupt jailer.

"The jailer, Alex Guidry, lived outside of town on a ten-acre horse farm devoid of trees or shade. The sun's heat pooled in the tin roofs of his outbuildings, and grit and desiccated manure blew out of his horse lots. His oblong 1960s red-brick house, its central-air-conditioning units roaring outside a back window twenty-four hours a day, looked like a utilitarian fortress constructed for no other purpose than to repel the elements." SUNSET LIMITED is among the best of Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels. This is a good one to start with if you are new to the series. The others include IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH THE CONFEDERATE DEAD (which like SUNSET LIMITED involves movie people in the plot), DIXIE CITY JAM, BURNING ANGEL (a good book made into a bad movie starring Alec Baldwin), and CADALLIC JUKEBOX. Trust me on this.

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