The Convict and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by James Lee Burke. Most of the stories are centered around familiar territories for Burke readers, Louisiana, Texas and the Southwest United States. They share his ability to create mood through the descriptions of the environment and the characters. I wondered a few times whether some of them were ideas for novels that couldn’t be expanded to a full book.
If you might guessed from the cover art that this is not a light read, you’d be correct. The James Lee Burke books that I have read will never pass for light-hearted reading, but each of them has been entertaining. I enjoyed the short stories as a change of pace from his longer works.
In Swan Peak famed New Orleans cop, Dave Robicheaux, tries to get away and relax in the wilderness of Montana. Mayhem seems to find him wherever he goes when he and his long-time partner get involved in a murder investigation near a friends house. Was the proximity of the murder a coincidence or a message?
“This place looks peaceful. But it’s not. The degenerate who murdered that college boy up there is the canker in the rose. It doesn’t matter where you go. The same fellow is always there.”
Former Texas Ranger Billy Bob Holland travels to Montana to visit an old friend, but mostly to spend time fishing. The Bitterroot Valley in Montana has become a fashionable place for the rich and famous to live and play. Other undesirables also have made their way to the wilderness area. Holland’s friend has no patience for many of the visitors and other folks looking to exploit the natural resources which puts him and consequently Holland at odds with some unsavory characters. Mayhem ensues in, Bitterroot , as a psychopath is at play and has an axe to grind. See how I did that? I used the work psychopath and axe in the same sentence. Now you are wondering if that person uses and axe. I’m not telling.
Set in Louisiana, and mostly in New Orleans, the title The Neon Rain strikes a strong visual image for me. I participated (okay I went to) Mardi Gras in 1985 while this novel was originally published in 1987. I still remember many of the names of places set as scenery for this first in the “Dave Robicheaux” mystery novels written by Jams Lee Burke. Mr. Robicheaux is a New Orleans homicide detective on a hunt for a murderer. Makes sense except the murder wasn’t in his jurisdiction and neither the police from his jurisdiction nor the suspects really like him poking his nose around.