Just as Walter Mosley's series of Los Angeles detective stories always pointed toward the day when Easy Rawlins was going to have to reckon with the Watts riots, resulting in Little Scarlet
(2004) which trumped every book before it, in James Lee Burke's long-running series of Dave Robicheaux Lousiana murder mysteries, it was always going to be hard for him to match the post-Katrina The Tin Roof Blowdown
, which appeared in 2007. In The Glass Rainbow
, from this year, Burke increases the horror register, but the social dimensions he's brought into his books in the past is missing, and the atrocities in the book, and the fiends behind them, don't even seem to connect to each other. Robicheaux's musings on his life as a New Orleans cop — or, in the present, a sheriff's deputy in Iberia parish — is as compelling as the action:
Over the years, I had come to believe that almost all homicides, to one degree or another, are premeditated. A man who enters a convenience store with a loaded pistol has already made a decision about its possible use. A person who commits an abduction, knowing nothing about the victim's heart condition or that of the victim's loved ones, has already decided on the side of self-interest and is not worried about the fate of others...there is an explicit motivation in almost every homicide, even one committed in apparent blind rage.
It's a philosophy that can jump to the level of the metaphysical in an instant, with a line that with bare rewriting, or resigning, could find its place in a murder ballad like "Pretty Polly" or "Stagger Lee": "I do not believe the rage the dead experience can be contained by the grave."
Burke leaves almost everything hanging at the end of this book, but it's certain that the indomitable and unimpeachably honest Helen Soileau, once Robicheaux's partner, now his boss, and the only person he will suffer to curse in his presence, survives it. She is the real mystery in the series, and especially here: if her lines aren't as hard-boiled as they've been before, it's because she's no longer a foil, but a full, if spectral, presence on the page: angry, frustrated, with her own hidden motives, her ethics in question, her past, whatever it is, beginning to catch up with her. If there's a book to follow this one she could take center stage, and then anything could happen.