James Lee Burke is a colorful writer. I’m not just referring to his vibrant, sweaty depiction of Louisiana bayou country or his flinty postnoir dialogue, but to the fact that he uses hues like an oil painter. Pick any paragraph and you’ll find descriptions of reds and blues and plums and obsidians piled on top of one another, giving his prose a Kodachrome vividness.
So it’s only appropriate that color, light, and rainbows factor prominently in his latest novel, The Glass Rainbow, the 18th with his world-weary and worldly-wise detective Dave Robicheaux. Here, investigating the deaths of seven women, Robicheaux goes down a tortuous path that leads to both Louisiana’s lowest criminal swamp scum and members of its gilt-edged aristocracy, with the titular stained-glass window at the center of it all. Burke occasionally stumbles (every character we meet seems to end up playing an improbably crucial role in the plot), but the venerable author still writes with the same intensity, and moral avidity, that energizes his equally aged hero. And while there are plenty of villains for that hero to face — including, aptly, a Delta oil tycoon — Burke’s finely developed understanding of the human race prevents anything from getting too black-and-white. B+