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Burning Angel    by James Lee Burke Amazon.com order for
Burning Angel
by James Lee Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 1996 (1995)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

Coming upon a book by James Lee Burke that I hadn't read was like winning the lottery. Never mind that it was ten years old. The content is what counts.

His mastery of descriptive prose is hard to beat. Consider this: 'Late Fall is a strange time of year in southern Louisiana. After first frost, robins fill the trees along the bayou and camellias that seem fashioned from crepe paper bloom with the colors of spring, even though winter is at hand. The sky is absolutely blue and cloudless, without an imperfection in it, but at evening the sunlight hardens and grows cold, as it might in a metaphysical poem, the backroads are choked with cane wagons on their way to the mill and the stubble fires on the fields drench the air with an acrid, sweet smell like syrup scorched on a woodstove.'

Can't you just picture the scene from those words? And smell it? I can. Burke uses the same words you and I do. The difference is that he strings them together in a more imaginable and picturesque fashion. Oh, yes, the plot! That is also one of the talents that Burke has perfected. He produces stories that keep a reader guessing, heart in mouth. None of his characters are people you or I know. But they all ring true and at the last page you're glad you don't know people like these but you're also glad to have met them for a short span of time.

This time, Detective Dave Robicheaux, in trying to help several local residents stay on their land, stirs up a hornet's nest that won't subside easily. For Robicheaux, it always seems as though the hard way is the only way. The plot is convoluted, sprinting off in different directions at times, but always coming back to the main road to meet once again with the storyline. Dastardly deeds are done and the reader fears for Robicheaux's and his small family's lives. All is resolved in the end maybe not to everyone's satisfaction. But I don't think Burke believes in pretty endings and I would be disappointed if he produced one. Burning Angel is an excellent read.

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