Review: Swan Peak, James Lee Burke

I’m terribly behind in posting here. I apologize! I thought I’d at least get you a review of one of my latest reads. James Lee Burke is one of my favorite authors, and he seems to get better as time goes on.

Swan Peak
Swan Peak by James Lee Burke

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Swan Peak is James Lee Burke’s usual — meaning it’s beautifully written, with characters that make you want to scream and cry. The difference for this installment is location. Dave Robicheaux has moved to Montana to get away from things in New Iberia and the New Orleans area. But trouble finds him anyway.

The use of first person and third person POVs has broadened the potential of Burke’s stories. We now have more insight into the dark recesses of Clete Purcell’s mind than ever before. It’s fascinating. And it leaves me feeling in need of some of his whiskey. Or whatever he’s drinking at the moment. That’s a dark hole that houses Clete’s mind.

The character of Nix makes you want to believe in hell. Then Burke goes ahead and makes him start changing, so he becomes almost sympathetic and you have a hard time hating him. Dammit. And then Burke goes and redeems him — the story’s villain — and turns the victim into the bad guy, albeit briefly. I still think Nix is rotten deep down, but he showed a shred of humanity. It was his victim that couldn’t get past the sins perpetrated against him that put him in Nix’s place. How’s that for a plot twist.

One of my favorite lines, demonstrative of Burke’s ability to create an image:
“…inhaling a breath that was as sharp as a razor in his throat.”
Don’t tell me you don’t feel that.

Another of my favorite passages demonstrates Burke’s deft hand with a thoughtful moment from Dave, where he sums up so simply and eloquently the philosophy of Dave Robicheaux and how he sees his world:
“But if there is a greater lesson in what occurred inside that clearing, it’s probably the simple fact that the real gladiators of the world are so humble in their origins and unremarkable in appearance that when we stand next to them in a grocery-store line, we never guess how brightly their souls can burn in the dark.
Or at least that’s the way it seems to me.”

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