The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke

If I could only pick one series to read it would probably be the Robicheaux series which I would head to although Inspector Gamache and Commissario Brunetti would not be far behind. I picked up The Neon Rain in the library on a whim, not remembering that I had already read it. This is one of the books that I can read again and again so that doesn’t matter.

Burke’s books are quite hard to review as the themes are present in all his books right from the very beginning: the presence of evil in some people and in some of the sytems and structures of the police and government, the depiction of the area that he lives in and the place of power and its use to name but a few. These are all in this book. So for this review, I am going to focus on the descriptions of the place as well as the plot otherwise you will get the same review for each book.

Robicheaux is called to meet a prisoner who is due to die in the next few hours. This prisoner, Massina, wants to warn him of a hit that has been taken out on him – a man with many evil acts behind him trying to make good at the last moment. Burke describes the walk into the jail in one long, twisty sentence showing us the never-endingness of the place.

I parked the car and we entered the Block, passed through the first lockdown area where both the snitches and the dangerous ones stayed, walked down the long, brilliantly lit breezeway between the recreation yards into the next dormitory, passed through another set of hydraulic locks and a dead space where two hacks sat at a table playing cards and where a sign overhead read NO GUNS BEYOND THIS POINT, into the rec and dining halls where the black trustys were running electric waxers on the gleaming floors, and finally walked up the spiral iron steps to a small maximum-security corner where Johnny Massina was spending the last three hours of his life.


In one sentence that is a paragraph we move from the car park, through the prison and up to the character we want to listen to. It might be a long sentence but it does get us quite quickly from A to B and creates the atmosphere. There is a sense of running through the motions, doing things that don’t need doing or saying; boredom. There isn’t really a wasted word although there are a lot of wasted lives living in that sentence.

Twisted into the story of who is out to get Robicheaux is the lost life of a young black woman that he found drifting in the bayou. And here, the calm provided by fishing is reflected in the description of the water and land.

The shore was thickly lined with cypress trees, and it was cool and quiet in the green-gold morning light that fell through the canopy of limbs overhead. The lily pads were abloom with purple flowers, and I could smell the trees, the moss, the wet green lichen on the bark, the spray of crimson and yellow four o’clocks that were stil open in the shade.


I can picture this place where not only do we have the plants but the colours and the smells. Trees are often referred to has having limbs but in this book, the limbs are mirrored in the horror that lurks in the water in the same paragraph. Robicheaux spots an alligator floating in the water looking like ‘a brown rock’ and when another boat passes and disturbs the water he sees ‘a bare leg, a band, . . .’.

This being a young black woman, her missing has not been investigated and nor is her death. Injustice being a theme running through all of the books means that Robicheaux will investigate and of course these two stories merge together with a lot of violence and not all the right people captured and tried.

It would not be true to say that throughout the series the men are the evil and women good or in the light but in this book it is. When we come across Annie, the weather changes

The sky had cleared and the air was suddenly blue and gold when the sun broke through the clouds, but the wind was still loud in the oak trees along the lane, and torn leaves were scattered across the lawns.


It is clear that not everything is right, we still have the after effect of the storm and when Robicheaux meets Annie he tries to get her to stop wanting to see him as he attracts too much evil and drags a lot along with him. She is decribed as wearing

. . . white Levi’s, a pink pullover blouse, and gold hoop earrings that made her look like a flower child of the sixties.


Sweet, innocent colours and a smbol of peace in complete contrast to the men who have been chasing him.

Death was a rodent that ate its way inch by inch through your entrails, chewed at your liver and stomach, severed tendon from organ, until finally, when you were along in the dark, it sat gorged and sleek next to your head, its eyes resting, its wet muzzled like a kiss, a promise whispered in the air.


There is something about a series of books: we know and probably like the main characters, the themes appeal to us and in this series the place. We know what we are going to get as an outline of a story and there is a great comfort in that. This is especially true of the Robicheaux series for me but what we also get is good writing and that makes all the difference.

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