James Lee Burke

Cimarron Rose is the first book I’ve read by Louisiana native, James Lee Burke. Thoroughly enjoyed it, though the content was a bit raw and gruesome at times. I would not recommend the book to those who are invested in the culture of “trigger warnings.” For everyone else, go for it!

Like all writers worth their fame, Burke has strong characters driving the plot. And like all good writers of his genre (suspense/crime drama), that plot is very carefully crafted. But Burke’s signature element for me is style – a muscular prose style of the sort sometimes associated with Hemingway but adapted to the genre and the regional setting (small-town Texas and west Louisiana). It is a style paradoxically very sparse and very vivid. Tight sentences with words and images chosen with great efficiency. It reminds me a bit of the way Clint Eastwood created a richness of character in the spaghetti westerns with a few facial gestures and fewer words.

Her arms looked strong, her stomach flat under her breasts. Her black gunbelt was polished and glinted with tiny lights…

His skin had the unblemished smoothness of latex stretched over stone…

Outside the window I could see trees of lightning busting all over the sky.

This style of Burke’s colors all other elements – the sense of place, the characters’ psyches, the pace of the story and of life in the universe of the novel.

If I ever make it back to Burke’s hometown, New Iberia, Louisiana, the place itself might be a little more colored in by this brush with his personality via Cimarron Rose.

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