In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead by James Lee Burke.
A sense of foreboding drifts over New Iberia from the very first page of this most literary novel, as the reader is treated to not one but three mysteries: one is thirty-five years old – the murder of Dewitt Prejean – and serves as a device to draw characters together. Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux, FBI agent Rosie Gomez and General John Bell Hood (1831-1879) search for a sadistic murderer in present-day 1992, the second mystery. They use logic, assumptions, luck, setups, breaches of ethics, intuition and extrasensory clues to determine the connections between an unlikely security guard Murphy Doucet; a hapless has-been movie star Elrod T. Sykes and his lady friend Kelly Drummond; a mobster Julie “Baby Feet” Balboni; the long-retired night jailer Ben Hebert; movie director Mikey Goldman; bottler and “respectable” business man Twinky Lemoyne and others like Sam “Hogman” Patin who plays Harmonica and Twelve-string guitar. Don’t you love the names?
The third mystery concerns General Hood and Major Moss. That mystery, dear reader, will not be solved for you by Mr. Burke. That is a mystery for the Ages.
Hood, noted for bravery, recklessness, and aggressiveness, is in some ways an alter ego for Robicheaux. Hood was ultimately defeated by his former West Point instructor. Robicheaux is almost defeated by his boss the Sheriff and deputy Rufus. But, Hood blessed with hindsight and foresight is able to help Dave prevail.
USA Today described this novel as “mystery cloaked in eloquence.” It is that and more. Electric Mist captures the people, the patois, the swamps, the dark and humid atmosphere so vividly, I will remember Burke’s New Iberia forever. I do not usually read mystery or crime novels, but I have received a couple of that genre recently for review, so I have some limited exposure. However, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead ranks with the best of books in ANY genre I have read. The genre writers should take their cues from the Master, Mr. Burke. Those amateurs who think that anything literary must be removed in order to appeal to readers or that gratuitous violence is a substitute for eloquence are ruefully mistaken. Burke’s murders actually occurred, if that’s important to the reader. His victims were “marginalized” people, who now live forever in thoughtful and intelligent prose. Burke has identified Keats, Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare as the greatest English language writers but has said that Faulkner could join their rank at the Tabard Inn. I think they would welcome Burke, too.
I have my own Confederate ghost, an ancestor, who would have been a major contributor to Southern writing, had he not worn the gray and died under a tree in Tennessee. Maybe not coincidentally, he spoke to me a couple of times this month marking the 150th year since the end of that Civil War. Maybe synchronicity led me to In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead this month. Maybe General Hood did. This book of James Lee Burke brought my ancestor to consciousness again. If you like murder mysteries; if you like Civil War History; if you read literary novels; if you want to learn some French; if you would like to know more about Louisiana, then download it to your kindle immediately.
Leila Smith, for The Kindle Book Review. We are not associated with the author nor with Amazon. This review was not solicited.