This, I believe, is James Lee Burke’s twenty-ninth novel, and I think I have read about twenty of those. From which you can already guess that he is likely a favourite of mine, and indeed I think he currently is probably the best American writer of crime fiction around (assuming that James Ellroy has moved beyond the genre). This is mainly due to his often remarked-upon writing style which of a lyrical intensity you do not find often, and especially not in crime fiction which often tends towards the sparse and matter-of-fact tone.
His novels are mostly set in rural areas, and the beauty of the scenery and Burke’s colourful descriptions – from the luscious green of Lousiana swamps to the sepia and ochre of the Texas prairie – contrasts starkly with the violence and corruption of human society that appears mostly fueled by greed and insanity, the few moments of warmth and human kindness fleeting and often futile. Maybe it’s just me, but Burke’s novels, never exactly a light comfort read, seem to have grown increasingly darker over recent years, and The Glass Rainbow appears to continue that trend.
It is the eighteenth volume in the series featuring his best-known protagonist, small-town Louisiana deputy sherrif Dave Robicheaux. After having lost one wife to violence and one to a incurable disease, it would seem like like Robichaux, steadily advancing into old age, finally has managed to carve out his own small haven of private happiness with his most recent partner Molly and his adopted daughter Alafair. Only to have drastically demonstrated to him just how fragile that happiness is when Alafair gets involved with a man he disapproves of and then is drawn into a criminal conspiracy that threatens not only her life but also that of Molly and Robicheaux himself.
And then there is Tripod, the family pet racoon who is slowly succumbing to old age, thus signalling that Robicheaux’ private paradise will eventually be doomed by time and eath, without him being able to do anything about it – et ego in Arcadia. The novel appears almost baroque in the persistence of the Vanity motif, and it certainly offers itself to be read it as an allegoryon that subject. What is quite un-baroque, though, is the rage Robicheaux and a few others muster, their outright and unwavering refusal to put up with the state of the world and accept it as God-given. Like all good crime fiction, The Glass Rainbow is a highly moralistic work and is carried by the stubborn conviction that there is a good cause to fight for, and that making a stand has value and matters, even if it appears futile.