A Stained White Radiance

I’ve read one James Lee Burke novel per year for the last four years. I’m planning on reading a few more this year because I have the next three stacked up in a pile in paperback form (his early stuff was not on the Kindle the last time I checked). They’re going to be easy to grab and blast through. I love Burke’s writing and his main character is great fun.


At a certain point, I thought that the main character, Dave Robicheaux, had achieved a little bit of stability. But in the last few pages, he announces that he’s taking an indefinite leave from the New Iberia (Louisiana) sheriff’s office. We were so close to getting through a whole book without him leaving some law enforcement agency (reference my comments on his last book).

Once again, I’m joking. Burke sticks to the formula and I like it. Robicheaux gets embroiled in another sordid affair with some thugs who come dangerously close to hurting his family. His adopted daughter is growing up and he’s remarried to a childhood sweetheart, who has some sort of disease. The bait shop is thriving and he has a few emotional moments with Batist, the guy who runs the shop. I kind of wish Batist figured into things a little more, I have a feeling he will in the future.

In my take on the last book, I quoted an awesome description of some of the demons inside Robicheaux. I’ll continue that trend. Early on Robicheaux has this thought about a potential victim:

I wanted to write it all off and leave Weldon to his false pride and private army of demons, whatever they were, and not spend time trying to help somebody who didn’t want any interference in his life. But if other people had had the same attitude toward me, I had to remind myself, I would be dead, in a mental institution, or putting together enough change and crumpled one-dollar bills in a sunrise bar to buy a double shot of Beam, with a frosted schooner of Jax on the side, in the vain hope that somehow that  shuddering rush of heat and amber light through my body would finally cook into ashes every snake and centipede writhing inside me. (Page 17, paperback version)

The guy has demons for sure but did not drink at all this book. He attended a couple of AA meetings and seems to have things under control. Great stuff once again. The next one is queued up. I’ll do better than one Burke this year for sure.


Black Ops

Well, The Presidential Agent Series may have just nuked the fridge. Yeah, I don’t think it means I’m going to be moving on, but my respect for the series has taken a little hit. Maybe respect isn’t the right word. I’m struggling with how I feel, but I’ll sort it out by the end of this post.

This was a decent thriller, with Charley Castillo and the whole crew back again still sorting through the Iraq arms-for-food scandal that has been present for basically all of the books. The scandal provides good continuity and is a decent backdrop for the action, spy-craft, and political wrangling that Griffin has enamored me with over the last four books. The dialogue is still crackling and characters are still quirkily flawed, but cool.

This book started stretching things a little thinly though.


In the end, when he meets up with this secret society interested in protecting the interests of the United States, it just seemed to deviate from what heretofore has been something not too far off the charts of the plausibility scale. Listen, I know it’s always been implausible, and I don’t run from implausibility. But it’s clear that the next step is that Castillo continues saving the world on his own dime. Sure, that’s fine.

I find it interesting that this comes as Griffin’s son joins as co-author for the next book. Reading the preview, it really sounds fantastical. I’m okay with that, I’ll change my latitude a little and enjoy it.


Starvation Lake

Every time I read a Chicago Tribune article by Julia Keller I remind myself to read her more often. I’ve gotten out of the habit of reading the Trib regularly so I usually end up catching up with her articles on the net after I actually read the Trib in paper form (although the new iPhone app may change this). I happened to read the Tribune a few Sundays ago and Keller made mention of Bryan Gruley.

Gruley is a 1979 grad from ND who lives in Chicago and writes about a fictional town in northern lower Michigan (one of my favorite places on earth). So yeah, I bought this book that day.

I’m looking forward to reading about his main character, Gus Carpenter, for a long time. Hopefully Gruley feels like churning out these books for a while. This Gus character is pretty cool. He edits a small town newspaper after a fall from grace at a big Detroit newspaper. And he loves hockey. Hockey is a huge part of this book, which is cool with me.


Gruley didn’t shy away from heavy topics in this debut. After about halfway through you could sense we had a pedophilia/pornography issue on our hands (if I had one complaint, Gruley dragged out the “secret” a little too long).

I like the small town setting, I like the main character, I like the potential romantic interest for the main character, and it was a good crime novel. Book two is out and it’s subtitled “A Starvation Lake Mystery.” That’s what I like, a series. I’m on it.


S is for Silence

This is another edition of Grafton’s alphabet mystery series. I enjoy these books on so many different levels. First of all, each book stands alone as a solid mystery novel. Second, I like the main character a lot, mostly because she is so different from the characters in other stories I read. And finally, I really anticipate a fervor as we near the last few books.

I’m missing out on the Lost fervor (and any final episode fervor for that matter) because I don’t watch any “shows.” This series of books, for me at least, replaces that type of fun. Oh, it’s a little different I guess. I mean, the last episode in the life of Kinsey Millhone is still probably 5 years away. A year between episodes would probably blunt a lot of the fervor for most people. Which is probably why I don’t have anybody to discuss this with.

What do you do? I sort through it internally, better know as entertaining myself. But this anticipation stuff is only one aspect of the fun. Besides that, the mysteries are great. For this one, I’m making notes at the 60% point so I can document that I figured it out.


I’m writing this just past half-way through the book. Here’s my prediction: I think the murder was a plot, amongst no less than four characters, to rid the world of the victim because she had dirt on everybody. I make this prediction because of the retrospective scene in the bar where at least two of them sparred with the soon-to-be victim and others involved were watching.

So there you have it. That ends the real-time aspect of this post.

But alas, I was wrong! However, my prediction added another dimension to the fun of this mystery and it really had me jamming through it this weekend.

Part of me wants to go out right now and buy “T” and “U” and blast through them. But what’s the rush? I’m betting that “V” won’t come out until end of year or early next so that’s the bottleneck. Hmmm…if I did press on right now, it would allow me to read the Amazon reviews and discussions in real time, which would be cool.

I’m not sure what my plan is. I’m not caught up in any of my series so maybe I need to get there with one of them at least. It’s quite a quandary, but I got bigger fish to fry right now. Plus, I have some good biographies and business books that I’m looking forward to cracking through. Maybe a break from fiction will do me good.


A Morning for Flamingos

This is book four in the Dave Robicheaux series. Robicheaux is fifty plus and it’s early in the series, yet he’s already quit two police departments: New Orleans and New Iberia (where his home is). Now, early in this novel, he takes a leave from the New Iberia sheriff’s department after getting shot transporting a prisoner. There are still like 15 books left in this series but I’m not sure if there are enough law enforcement offices left for him to quit.

I’m joking a little. I love Burke’s writing, his main character, and this series – and going over the top is part of the deal. He puts the reader on the edge early and keeps them there throughout. His main character gets shot and punched a lot, and the love interests seem to come out of the woodwork (this time it’s Robicheaux’s high school sweetheart, whom we haven’t been introduced too yet). Throw in some really bizarre descriptions of drunk demons and sprinkle in an adopted daughter who the reader has good reason to fear for, and you have an all-out assault on your senses.

Here is a classic example of Robicheaux confronting his demons:

But to be honest, the real purpose in my physical regimen was to induce as much fatigue in my body as possible. Morpheus’ gifts used to come to me in bottles, Beam and black Jack Daniel’s, straight up with a frosted schooner of Jax on the side, while I watched the rain pour down in the neon glow outside the window of an all-night bar not far from the Huey Long Bridge. In a half hour I could kick open a furnace door and fling into the flames all the snakes and squeaking bats that lived inside of me. Except the next morning they would writhe with new life in the ashes and come back home, stinking and hungry. (page 55, paperback)

That should give you good feel of the darkness in these books. It’s clear that Robicheaux will be exorcising a lot of demons over the next 15 or so books. I’m looking forward to it.


Things were wrapped up a little too tidy this time around, which surprised me a little. His old partner Clete makes an appearance and I think they are going to be seeing each other a little more because Clete is now set up as a private detective in New Orleans. And, as I mentioned, his high school sweetheart also makes an appearance and ends up marrying Robicheaux. My guess is that some tragedy will befall her over the next few books because she’s already set up with lupus (although it’s under control).

He also saves a “gangster with a heart” by making it appear that he died so he could run off with his sick kid to Mexico. In the last few pages, Robicheaux receives a letter from the gangster who is safely set up and living the good life. Sure, it’s kind of formulaic, that’s fine. We’ll certainly see this guy again.

This book had a ton of New Orleans in it. Plenty of trips to Cafe Du Monde and even a side trip to a LSU vs Ole Miss football game. He even mentions the Irish Channel neighborhood in New Orleans, which is also mentioned by Anne Rice in a book I was reading at the same time. What a coincidence!

I made a note to buy the next one in the series, A Stained White Radiance. Looking forward to it.


The Shooters

This book is just about all dialogue. I noticed it earlier in the series but it really seemed to stand out in this one. Especially in the first half. Griffin basically tells the bulk of the story with dialogue. It’s amazing, and really cool. It’s non-stop chatter that moves rather rapidly. The violence and action found in most thrillers is hardly even described; it’s glossed over so he can get to more dialogue.

Since 2007, I’ve finished one book annually in the Presidential Agent series. But I may end up finishing two this year because it’s early and I’m pretty fired up to get to the next one. There are five books in this series so I have one left. Hopefully he churns out more, but I have the sneaky feeling that Griffin is running out of steam. I say this because his last few books (although not in this series) were co-written with his son; a sure sign of decline. Griffin is, after all, 80 years old.

He’s not off his game though. I love the macho, sarcastic, and sometimes hilarious dialogue. And he continues to craft interesting characters and really digs deep into their psyche. I’m not worried about running out of material, he is very prolific so I may have trouble finishing them all before I die.

He’s also a member, according to his official website, of the Flat Earth Society. Here are the search results. I’ve never heard of this. I guess there are people out there who still think the earth is flat. I had no idea. Oh well. I guess that’s what keeps the earth goin’ around…er, or not, I guess.

Still great stuff.


Oh yeah, I didn’t see the twist of Castillo’s kid coming. Wacky stuff. Can’t wait to see how he’s going to treat that in the next book. And I can’t recall what happened to Castillo’s love interest, I think her name was Betty Schneider. I know she got shot in Book Two, but I thought she survived, hmmm.

I’ll be back for more shortly, for sure.


R is for Ricochet

Grafton is not having any problems keeping me interested in the continuing adventures of her private investigator Kinsey Millhone. There are a few new developments this time around. First of all, Grafton throws in a lot of material about Kinsey’s landlord/neighbor Henry and his quirky family. But that’s not all.

I’m noticing a straying from the grittiness. Kinsey is wearing more makeup, gettin’ mo’ lovin’, and buying more clothes than ever before. It could just be the nature of this book, in which there isn’t a mystery that she’s engaged to resolve, per se.

Grafton is 69 and still appears to be going strong. I have three books to get caught up then I’ll finish them up as she writes them. That should be fun. She writes one about every year or two, so she’s gotta live to be about mid-70’s. Here’s a great interview at Powell’s where Grafton says that she is going to name the z book “Z” is for Zero.

I’m anticipating the run-up to the last book, that should be fun. She is noncommittal on continuing the series after that.

It’s so relaxing reading her books. I don’t really think about what I want her books to be like. I don’t say, “oh, I want to learn more about her family,” or “damn, I wish the villains were more sinister.” I just let these books happen and enjoy them. I have other interests/leisure activities that aren’t quite so relaxing, like college football and golf. Those have a different type of fulfillment.

Keep it up Sue.


The Hard Way

This is the next installment (for me) of the Jack Reacher series. I’ve had it sitting around for awhile but I was inspired to read it after reading about Lucas Glover’s win at the US Open. If you’re wondering why, read the first few paragraphs of this article and you’ll understand.

So Glover is a huge fan of Child’s stuff. That’s good to see.

Chock this up as just another great thriller by Child. It’s the one where he just happens to be sitting at a sidewalk cafe in New York when, unbeknownst to him, a crime takes place right in front of him. He just happens to be at the same sidewalk cafe the next night when an interested party stops by and asks him about what he saw. He just happens to solve the crime and kill a bunch of highly trained ex-military guys now working as mercenaries who drive big black Toyota Land Cruisers. Who woulda thunk it?

This stuff is over the top, but it’s so damn much fun. And at least one member on the PGA Tour agrees with me. Boy, how far the Tour has come; I think I recall David Duval claiming about a decade ago that he was the only guy on the PGA Tour who read books. Well David, now there are two, and the other one just cleaned your clock at Bethpage Black (btw, I still pull for Duval, he’s my favorite PGA player).

Looking forward to the next one, probably on the Kindle.


Black Cherry Blues

I’m starting to get it. I didn’t get it at first when I read The Neon Rain about two years ago. I said, “It’s quite dramatic and over the top. A little too much so, that’s why I say the jury is still out on this series.” But now I’m hooked on Burke and the jury is in; I will continue to hammer through Burke’s crime series and I’m becoming a big fan of the main character, Dave Robicheaux.

I wonder where Burke gets all the character traits for the dark and tormented Robicheaux. According to his bio, Burke lives in Missoula, MT and New Iberia, LA, which are the very locations that this novel takes place. So I’m guessing that he has melded together some local characters and himself. Grafton does this I think, but her style and main character are a lot different (but there are similarities). I like reading the the author biographies and sorting through these things. I just found out that Burke has a daughter named Alafair, which is the name of the child Robicheaux adopted in his second book. This, coupled with the setting, means that there’s a lot of Burke in Robicheaux.

That’s cool. Things like that bring me closer to the characters, the books, and the authors, making it an extended reading experience, so to speak. It just makes the pursuit more fun.

Burke’s novels throw some variety into my crime reading. So many crime novels have a single, childless, independent, often smart-alecky protagonist (at least the ones I read do). Robicheaux kind of conforms to this caricature. He’s a widower now and his daughter is adopted. But he’s not a smart alec. And he’s not very independent; leaning mostly on his therapist, AA group, housekeeper, bait shop employee, and adopted daughter for support. But in return, he helps these people out a lot and shows them much kindness. They are often the reason why he has to unleash some brutal attacks on the bad guys of the world.

This good and evil in the extreme is very interesting. It’s almost unnerving because the people he loves are often in harm’s way. Especially his daughter. In this book she needs constant protection because he hauls her along while he is tracking the bad guys. But he needs to do so because she’s a target. The tension is always there.


Luckily his daughter doesn’t get killed like his wife did in the last book (she was a one-book wife). This is only book three so I’m really anxious to watch the development of these two. It just seems that he has a lot of crimes to solve with kid in tow. It would be overly formulaic if she was threatened in book after book. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I have the next one in paperback queued up, but I probably won’t get to it until later this year.


Q is for Quarry

Grafton has made her main character so rich and enthralling that it’s like having an imaginary friend. Strange you say? Yeah, I can’t argue with you, I may very well have some issues. I read through Kinsey’s bio on Wikipedia like it’s for real. I think it’s a testament to just how crafty Grafton is. The woman can write some fun stuff.

In this iteration of the adventures of private detective Kinsey Millhone, Grafton throws in a few new things and a fresher take on one of her favorite topics.

For the first time that I can recall she bases the mystery on a real-life case. She talks about it in an extended author’s notes section (I don’t recall her doing that before either). She gives the reader insights into her methods and goes into some detail on the journal she keeps during the writing of each book. Do you ever think that the next generation will study these journals posthumously like we study Van Gogh’s sketches? Hey, pop culture often ends up being termed classic after a period of time. Don’t rule it out.

Additionally, she really pushes the envelope on Kinsey’s fast food fetish. The reader gets a detailed description of a McDonald’s meal no less than three times. Kinsey even gets a colleague addicted to fast food. At one point, Kinsey heads out to grab some McDonald’s shortly after her colleague had just finished dining at Burger King. Her colleague says:

Oh, I’ll be eating again. The Whopper was good, but it didn’t fill me up. I’ve been thinking we should do a study – purely scientific – a side-by-side tasting, a Whopper and a Big Mac, to see which we prefer. Or go vertical – McDonald’s hamburger, cheeseburger, a QP with cheese, and a Big Mac. What do you think?

That vertical tasting idea is pretty funny. Grafton, I think, is rebelling against the healthful, agricultural, Santa Barbara lifestyle. Kinsey runs and lifts weights, but loves fast food. So she’s healthy, but unapologetically cheats a lot. I’m guessing that she’s flaunting this in the face of the granola eaters in California.

I may just blast through R, S, T, and U this year so I can catch up.