Unless the search is failing me, I haven’t reviewed anything by him here before. He’s a writer I love, another of that breed of crime writers who isn’t up to much if what you want is a mystery with clues that you can try to solve alongside the brilliant detective. Some bad stuff has happened, usually relating back to or simply dating back to a time decades ago (in this one, regular narrator and cop Dave Robicheaux’s mother’s death), and we gradually flesh out some details, but there is no real mystery involved. The story tends to be about dealing with the shitstorm that gets kicked up, mostly pretty deliberately by Dave and his best friend, a disgraced and violent ex-cop named Clete, and the corruption and evil in high places that gets gradually revealed. The tensions in this one, and this is more or less similar in the others, are to do with a hired killer of complex and ambiguous intentions, and whether Dave and his family can survive that; and what will happen to the guilty bigwigs. It always feels as if there are about even chances of their: getting away with it; getting jailed; getting killed by one of other bad guys; or getting killed by Dave and/or Clete. The last is the greatest tension. You can be pretty sure that Dave will survive, after all, but he is a man with a major temper, demonstrated in ill-judged and ill-timed ways at least once a novel, and an appalling alcoholic past, and he takes nearly everything personally.

All this is good and compelling, and it says something about his ability with characters that the personality of the hit man in this story seemed like no one I had seen in fiction before, and also completely believable and fascinating. But the best thing about Burke, for me, is his prose. He has a very good ear for dialogue, and knows how to make his writing tight and atmospheric, but he is also one of the best I’ve ever read – no genre cavils there – at descriptive writing. These tales are set in the Louisiana bayous near New Orleans, and that territory is highly evocative, and he brings out every bit of rich emotional and scene-setting power on offer. I think he’s one of the all-time greats of crime writing, up there with Chandler in particular, and a major writer in any terms.