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James Lee Burke's 'New Iberia Blues'

Mar 27, 2019

The shocking death of a young woman leads Detective Dave Robicheaux into the dark corners of Hollywood, the mafia, and the backwoods of Louisiana in this gripping mystery from “modern master” (Publishers Weekly) James Lee Burke.

The New Iberia Blues

The following highlights are from a conversation with James Lee Burke about his 22nd novel in the Dave Robicheaux mystery series, "The New Iberia Blues." To hear our full conversation, click the link above or subscribe to our podcast.

On believing in your work as an artist

I taught creative writing in a number of schools and they were all great kids. Once in a while a student would come up to me and say, “Hey Jim, do you think I’ve got it? Do you think I’ve got the talent?” And I wouldn’t say anything because if he asks the question, he’s following the wrong flag.

You never doubt it. You never care whether people think you’re talented or not. And every writer, every artist knows the following: the gift comes from somewhere outside oneself. Everyone knows it. The most arrogant, narcissistic, neurotic, self-centered individual in the world who has talent, knows that if he takes credit for it it will be taken and given to someone else. I have yet to see it fail.

The worst pronouns in the world for a writer are: I, me, my, mine, and myself. It’s my feeling that humility is not a virtue for an artist. It is a necessity. That arrogance and pride are just absolute murder.

On the written line: “Every literary plot is either the Bible, Greek mythology, or Elizabethan Theatre.”

Here’s the advantage of having a classical education: no one else has one anymore! And so it’s all new. I’ve been stealing plots and characters from the Bible for 60 years and no one has noticed. The only problem is I think I might be in trouble up the track!

On the fascination of trying to understand evil

I believe it’s in our midst every day, we just find ways to cosmetically remove it from our memory or we also avoid certain conclusions that can make us very uncomfortable about our own inability to deal with it, but to recognize it honestly for what it is.

On staying anchored in a sense of light

Anyone who lives what Socrates called “the examined life” has to address certain questions. How do we reconcile the existence of a merciful God with the fact that both good and evil coexist in the world in which we live? That seems to me the most serious philosophical or metaphysical question that everything thinking person confronts. Ultimately, there is an answer.

About the Book:

The shocking death of a young woman leads Detective Dave Robicheaux into the dark corners of Hollywood, the mafia, and the backwoods of Louisiana in this gripping mystery from “modern master” (Publishers Weekly) James Lee Burke.

Detective Dave Robicheaux’s world isn’t filled with too many happy stories, but Desmond Cormier’s rags-to-riches tale is certainly one of them. Robicheaux first met Cormier on the streets of New Orleans, when the young, undersized boy had foolish dreams of becoming a Hollywood director.

Twenty-five years later, when Robicheaux knocks on Cormier’s door, it isn’t to congratulate him on his Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations. Robicheaux has discovered the body of a young woman who’s been crucified, wearing only a small chain on her ankle. She disappeared near Cormier’s Cyrpemort Point estate, and Robicheaux, along with young deputy, Sean McClain, are looking for answers. Neither Cormier nor his enigmatic actor friend Antoine Butterworth are saying much, but Robicheaux knows better.

As always, Clete Purcel and Davie’s daughter, Alafair, have Robicheaux’s back. Clete witnesses the escape of Texas inmate, Hugo Tillinger, who may hold the key to Robicheaux’s case. As they wade further into the investigation, they end up in the crosshairs of the mob, the deranged Chester Wimple, and the dark ghosts Robicheaux has been running from for years. Ultimately, it’s up to Robicheaux to stop them all, but he’ll have to summon a light he’s never seen or felt to save himself, and those he loves.

Stephen King hailed New York Times bestselling author James Lee Burke “as good as he ever was.” Now, with The New Iberia Blues, Burke proves that he “remains the heavyweight champ, a great American novelist whose work, taken individually or as a whole, is unsurpassed” (Michael Connelly).

About the Author: 

James Lee Burke
Credit James McDavid

James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He’s authored thirty-six novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.