Customer Reviews: A Stained White Radiance
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on September 18, 2001
If the axiom ‘Write what you know’ is at all true, then James Lee Burke must have some truly frightening skeletons in his closet. It isn’t so much the subject matter, as it is the passion and intensity with which he pours the narrative onto the page. Burke’s characters live and breathe corruption, and ignorance, and violence, in a manner most of us would scarcely think possible. But he draws us in, into a world so vividly sketched that part of our being yearns to visit it again and again.
A SHINING WHITE RADIANCE is vintage Burke, another steamy and scintillating exploration of crime and corruption in New Orleans. His familiar hero, world-weary police detective Dave Robicheaux, is unwillingly enveloped in the twisted lives of the Sonniers, a local family with a history so unnerving that it’s a wonder any of them got out alive. Following the brutal slaying of a police officer in Weldon Sonnier’s home, Robicheaux is swiftly sped along a road of clues and red herrings, stopping at various points to involve late-night tele-evangelists, local crime bosses, past loves, Air America, drugs, and the AB (Aryan Brotherhood).
Burke has so far (as far as my readings of the Robicheaux novels are concerned) avoided the pitfalls that can trap the author of an ongoing series. The temptation must be great to simply graft a plot around the characters, and let it all just slide by. Burke takes the effort needed to not insult his readership, never content to let the characters simply act as they have in the past. Burke comes up with new ways to reintroduce us to the characters, allowing for new developments that expand what we thought we new about his universe. Robicheaux’s past experiences in Vietnam are brought in as integral elements of the story, not simply ‘character filler’. His deep self-loathing for past mistakes, his never-ceasing battle with personal demons (both internal and external), and his ceaselessly evolving relationship with his wife Bootsie, adopted child Alafair, close friend Batist, and even closer friend Clete Purcel, keep the tale rooted in reality.
Burke can also compose one fine episode of menace after another. Just watch Robicheaux’s prison-cell conversation with Joey Gouza. Burke teases the reader, never showing his hand too early, and climaxes the scene with a harrowing interlude of incipient violence. The vignette is all the more striking for its lack of outward activity. The suspense is completely internalized, and mesmerizing. Only afterwards to you realize that you’ve been holding your breath.
Burke can also pen descriptive and atmospheric language with the best of them. His characters all speak with the accent of local patois, adding to the laid-back (but not lazy) environment of Burke’s New Orleans. His finesse with the undercurrent of racism permeates every moment, and his depictions of the backwoods swamps and seedy taverns are vivid. Maybe this New Orleans doesn’t exist in real life, but it feels like it does.
Does it all wrap up satisfyingly? No. After all the set-up, the promising situations, and the pacing that is both leisurely and break-neck, the ultimate denouement is somewhat lacking. But in context, perhaps it’s the only ending that would fit. As Robicheaux himself comes to understand, not everything in life is fair, and not everyone gets what they deserve. Evil will continue, but so will good. How we react to it, deal with it, is what defines us. If we’re still standing at the end of the day, then we’ve won.
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on July 19, 1999
I came to James Lee Burke and Dave Robicheaux by accident and now I am hooked!!! I started with Sunset Limited, not knowing there was 9 earlier novels in the series. I am quickly making my way through them and enjoying them immensely. It is not enough to describe them as "mystery" or "thrillers". Burke has introduced me to a whole new world so completely different to the place I live. Dave is a thoroughly believable creation, and might I add one of the sexiest men in fiction! This is my favourite in the series so far, but I still have 6 to read, and then Burke's other novels! I feel like I have not only been entertained by a good story but I have been educated about a place and people that I had no knowledge of.
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on September 3, 2001
This is the fifth Robicheaux book I have read. I think this one was the best so far. It had lots of action, a good mystery going on. Dave is great as usual. I really like Cletus and his loyalty to Dave. I like the language that Burke weaves into the book. Batist is also a very good character. Burke lets you feel the pain and hurt Robicheaux has for himself and his love for Bootsie and Alafair. You can nearly feel the heat lighting and the dust from the roads. Many good characters, much suspense, a good ending. If you like Burke you will like this book, if you have not read him before I think you he will become one of you favoite authors.
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James Lee Burke has given us another strong effort in his fifth Dave Robicheaux mystery, A Stained White Radiance.

Book five opens with someone shooting a rifle through a window of Weldon Sonnier's house. The Sonnier children (Weldon, Lyle and Drew) were friends of Robicheaux's growing up in New Iberia. Unfortunately, they suffered a horrendous childhood at the hands of their father. It is obvious that Weldon is hiding something and that his life is in danger. A few days later, three men break into Weldon's house and trash the place. When Robicheaux arrives as backup at the scene, he discovers the body of a fellow police officer who was first sent to investigate. He was executed mob-style. Robicheaux now applies a full court press to identify the murderers, discover who is behind then, and also, reveal what dark secrets the Sonnier's are hiding. Burke also has to deal with some issues at home including a sick wife (lupus) who is jealous of an old flame. We also see Robicheaux more in an AA setting. Although he remains on the wagon, we see him work the program more than in previous books.

A Stained White Radiance touches on the "usual" southern Louisiana maladies including drug dealing. But Burke also shows the ugly side of Louisiana that often includes not on the mob, but also rednecks, Nazi's and Aryans. One character, Bobby Earl, is a former Klansman now running for state office (think David Duke). He operates on the fringe, getting others to do his dirty work. Somehow, these guys are all in bed together.

Burke has always been a fine writer, but he really tightened things up since the first books in this series. The plots are less predictable and more enjoyable. The good guys don't always win and the bad guys don't always lose (which often happens in the real world). Burke's character development has also evolved, and they become more complex and are written in more varied hues. These changes have provided his readers with a richer texture.

In each book, Robicheaux always seems to get into a life-threatening scrape. Despite the danger of his job, I hope Burke keeps Robicheaux alive and working for many books to come.
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VINE VOICEon July 7, 2006
Dave is back working as a detective with the New Iberia sheriff's office; living with Bootsie and Alafair, and running his boat rental business. On a routine call, a new officer is killed by two men caught in the middle of a crime. The house where this occurs, is the home of an old friend from his childhood, Weldon Sonnier.

The Sonnier family story is even sorrier than Dave's childhood. Dirt Poor, their mother dies, leaving them to be taken care of by their abusive father's girlfriend. Things get so bad for the kids that at one point they set her on fire. Their father dies in an industrial accident and they spend the rest of their childhood in foster homes and state institutions.

The oldest brother (Weldon) was a flier in 'Nam and then worked for Air America, running drugs and arms to rebels in the mountains of Laos. The younger brother (Lyle) was in 'Nam with Dave, and was a 'tunnel rat' who lost three fingers on his hand. Their sister (Drew) was Dave's girlfriend in college after he got back from 'Nam, as he was on the rebound from Bootsie.

Now Weldon is a rich, successful oilman; Lyle is a born again preacher; and Drew is messed up. Weldon's brother-in-law (his wife is a pill addict) is a racist politician (Bobby Earl) in the manner of David Dukes), mixed up with the aryan brotherhood. One of Earl's biggest backers is the local drug don.

Weldon has gotten involved with Earl's friends who need a man who knows how to fly under the radar (literally). But on a job (that he was pre-paid) for, Weldon gets a conscience and dumps the cargo. Needless to say, his ex-employers are not happy. To add a little extra grusomeness, there is a psychopath midget, and a man with a burned face that looks like melted rubber.

Everything else that happens is related to the murder of the cop and the appearance of the 'burned man'. The action is sometimes a little too bloody, but it's hard to put the story down. The denoument is almost funny (in a non-haha way), and the epilogue sounds like the end of a Jerry Springer show.

More than anything, JLB writing about Dave's relationships with Bootsie, Alafair, Baptiste, and Cletus continue to mature.
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on October 22, 2015
How can you resist a writer who describes a vicious criminal like this: “Eddy Raintree’s photo stared at me out of his file with a face that had the moral depth and complexity of freshly poured cement.” Or who writes about “the redneck, coonass, peckerwood South,” referring to its inhabitants in this way: “Each morning they got up with their loss, their knowledge of who they were, and went to war with the rest of the world.”

Are you getting the impression that James Lee Burke is an atypical thriller writer? Truth to tell, the man writes so well that, even if his novels weren’t so brilliantly plotted, I’d be tempted to read them just for the stellar prose. And A Stained White Radiance, the fifth book in Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series, reflects the same writerly attention to atmosphere and character development that I found in the first four.

A Stained White Radiance — the title is taken from the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley — is a story about Klansmen, Nazis, and Mafia wiseguys. Years ago, Robicheaux served as a lieutenant in the Marines in Vietnam and as a police officer in the New Orleans Police Department. He’s past the half-century mark now and works as a deputy sheriff in rural New Iberia Parish, running a bait-tackle-and-lunch spot on the bayou on the side. Robicheaux is a fascinating character: tough, shrewd, relentless, with a powerful moral compass.

Naturally, since these are books about crime and criminals, Robicheaux finds himself mixed up in extremely dangerous investigations. His cases invariably end up involving his former partner in the NOPD, Cletus Purcell, and complicate the life he lives with his wife (the second wife in the series) and young adopted Salvadoran daughter. Previous entries in the series embroiled him in cases involving the CIA, the DEA, and the New Orleans Mob. In A Stained White Radiance, the crime at the center of the investigation brings in the Mob (again), an American Nazi politician who is a David Duke lookalike, and an assortment of odious lowlife killers, wifebeaters, and other miscreants. The story is complex and brims over with suspense. I can’t wait for #6 in the series.
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on November 4, 2014
This is one of the earlier Robicheaux novels where Bootsie is still his wife and Alifair is only in third grade. Still, Burke 's gift, albeit younger, is impressive and entertaining. I've read some reviews that find Burke 's style as repetitive and cumbersome, even heavy-handed. Personally, I've found it to be lyrical, poetically much like the landscapes he describes and the characters he creates. "Stained White Radiance" is another must-read!
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on August 11, 2011
Dave Robicheaux becomes involved with people from his childhood - in this case the Sonnier family, two brothers and a sister. He remembers when they came to schoold with cigarette burns on their bodies. They came out of a bad background. The older brother is now an oil wildcatter, having started with drilling on family property, and is married to the sister of a rising politician. The younger brother had been a tunnel rat serving with Dave in Vietnam, and had come out of the war with a troubled mind - he became a faith healing minister laying on his hands. The sister is, well, the sister and had at one time been Dave's girlfriend. The older brother has some problems - three gunballs working for a local bad guy kill a deputy sheriff who intrudes when they are ransacking his house.

The novel is a well written story about life in the underside of south Louisiana, with a generous portion of redneck coona***s (some things get censored by Amazon, but if you are from the area, you get the drift). Dave, with some help from his friend Purcel, has his own way of dealing with bad guys. The novel has its moments, but be warned that there is violence and language and a couple gruesome scenes.
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on June 5, 2015
Always so literary; like reading William Faulkner or Scott Fitzgerald.
James Lee Burke truly captures his reader with both his characters and his settings. I often want to pause in the book and copy a quote from him. Love Dave Robicheaux. and can so relate as a recovering alcoholic.
I read at least two books a week, but in this case, Dave is my buddy and gives me strength at times.
I thought I had read all of these books until I found this one, and liked it as well if not better than all the rest.
I have family in LA and we still own land there in the surrounding areas Burke writes about, plus, I Googled New Iberia, and can now picture everything even more clearly as I read his books. Nothing like "really being there"!
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on July 13, 2015
A favorite author, and the Dave Robicheaux character may be the best ever created. I am fascinated by the way he talks, thinks, sees nature and humanity. Always a super read. This book, first time I realized Dave is a Liberal. Oh, well, nobody is perfect.
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