The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke, Orion Publishing, 2017, ISBN 978 1 4091 6349 7, 382pp
I have said before that I never go into a bookshop without buying a book and I never buy a single book. Books get lonely; they need to be bought in pairs (or often several at a time). And you should never go into a bookshop with a child without ensuring that it also selects something for its reading pleasure (or even just the pictures). So when I bought “The Last Days of Night” by Graham Moore I also picked up James Lee Burke’s latest.
I’ve been reading James Lee Burke since a friend of mine introduced me to him about 25 years ago. I have yet to be disappointed by anything he has written although I have to confess that I am sometimes mystified by the plot until I am some way through the book. He has been writing for 50 years; his first novel was “Half of Paradise” in 1965. Several of his books have been made into movies including “In the Electric Mist” (2007) and “Two for Texas” (2012). His most famous books are the Dave Robicheaux novels.
Burke paints his characters well. They’re sharply delineated and there’s always an underlying and sometimes cynical sense of Southern politeness woven through the dialogue. He describes people and places using metaphors that draw you in. Another device he uses is the list; he will talk about something using a string of descriptors that are all joined together by the use of “and”. Here’s an example: “Her hair wasn’t just auburn; it was thick and freshly washed and had gold streaks in it, and she had tied it back with a bandana like one of the women who worked in defence plants in the war.” His books are violent, or at least they are built around violence, but not confrontingly so. Alcohol plays a prominent part. There’s usually a crooked cop somewhere.
This one is set in Houston in the early 1950s. It’s a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the Korean War. Souped up cars play a strong role; these are referred to by the characters as “heaps”. It starts compellingly with the main character Aaron Holland Broussard challenging an unsavoury character connected to the mob and taking his girlfriend. Aaron Holland Broussard comes across as naive but he is anything but. There are several musical references and I found myself repairing to Spotify to listen to The Carter Family and Hank Williams.
If this is the first Burke novel you read then I will be surprised if it is the last. He locks you in with his power of story and description. And whether or not it’s your first Burke novel, you might also try one or two of his daughter’s novels. Her name is Alafair Burke and she’s a law professor as well as a novelist. A talented family.