Burning Angel

This is not the James Lee Burke novel for the uninitiated. It’s complicated, obtuse, and mystical. I’m deep in the series, reading them in order, and I generally liked this one. I found my mind wandering at times, but there were several riveting passages.

Robicheaux is a thoughtful police man with a lot of demons. Here is his take on how a member of the force can evolve:

After you’re a police officer for a while, you encounter certain temptations. They come to you as seductions do, in increments, a teaspoon at a time, until you discover you made an irrevocable hard left turn down the road someplace and you wake up one morning in a moral wasteland with no idea who you are.

I’m not talking about going on a pad, ripping off dope from an evidence locker, or taking juice from dealers, either. Those temptations are not inherent in the job; they’re in the person.

The big trade-off is in one’s humanity. The discretionary power of a police officer is enormous, at least in the lower strata of society, where you spend most of your time. You start your career with the moral clarity of the youthful altruist, then gradually you begin to feel betrayed by those you supposedly protect and serve. You’re not welcome in their part of town; you’re lied to with regularity, excoriated, your cruiser Molotoved. The most venal bail bondsman can walk with immunity through neighborhoods where you’ll be shot at by snipers.

You begin to believe there are those in our mist who are not part of the same gene pool. You think of them as subhuman, morally deceased, or, at best, as caricatures whom you treat in custody as you would humorous circus animals (page 38).

That passage struck me as timely and I wonder how real it is.

Then near the end there was this conversation between Robicheaux and a religious counsleor at his AA meeting:

“It’s all this, isn’t it?” he says. “We’re still standing in the same space we grew up but we don’t recognize it any more. It’s like other people own it now.”

“Yes.”

“Dave, when we say the Serenity Prayer about acceptance, we have to mean it. I can absolve sins but I can’t set either one of us free from the nature of time.”

“It has nothing to do with time. It’s what we’ve allowed them to do — all of them, the dope traffickers, the industrialists, the politicians. We gave up without even a fight.”

“I’m all out of words,” he says, and lays his hand on my shoulder. It has the weightlessness of an old man’s. He looks at the empty diamond with a private thought in his eyes, one that he knows his listener is not ready to hear (page 315).

Deep stuff.

There are some really sinister villains in this series, but you don’t fear for Robicheaux’s life because you know he lives. It’s his family you worry about! Scary.