Magazine article American Libraries

Crime in New Orleans

Magazine article American Libraries

Crime in New Orleans

Article excerpt

The crime rate is up in New Orleans, site of this year's ALA Annual Conference, but don't panic: We're talking fictional crime here. (Even so, take off that silly badge and ditch that Baker & Taylor shopping bag before you start guzzling Hurricanes in the Quarter.) With the possible exception of Miami, New Orleans currently tops the "A" fist as a setting for mystery fiction. Why? There are the city's natural attributes, of course: Crime stories need a certain seedy decadence to thrive, and no place does decadence like New Orleans.

Beyond the climate, though, there's James Lee Burke, whose Dave Robicheaux mysteries have truly put southern Louisiana on the literary map. Most mystery writers establish a sense of place mainly to create ambience, with landmarks strewn about in the manner an interior decorator arranges furniture. Occasionally, though, setting becomes something more--the architect replacing the decorator--and a metaphor emerges that enhances meaning rather than just prettifying plot. That is what Burke has done with the Robicheaux books, contrasting the easy-living Cajun heritage with the demons of modernity and making you feel the difference on the streets of New Orleans and in the byways of the bayou.

Burke, James Lee. In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead. Hyperion, 1993, $18.95 (0-56282-882-7).

Burke's sixth novel in the Robicheaux series again finds the Cajun detective struggling to keep the modem world at bay. This time, though, he's not fighting his losing battle alone: A straggling band of Confederate soldiers, wandering through time and intimately familiar with lost causes, has come to help. You can't write about Louisiana without at least nodding toward that supernatural realm hovering out there in the morning mist; somehow it seems right that Robicheaux, his eyes always on the past, would be the one to walk through the curtain.

Colbert, James. Skinny Man. Atheneum, 1991, $18.95 (0-689-12098-2).

New Orleans cop Skinny is a maverick with a propensity for trashing police cars. Here he's on the trail of an arsonist and a blonde working a real-estate scam. Skinny is a genuinely appealing eccentric whose past is as nuts as his present. Don't worry about the way he refers to himself in the third person--it's just another oddity from one of the oddest and funniest characters currently walking the mean streets.

Donaldson, D. J. No Mardi Gras for the Dead St. Martin's, 1992, $17.95 (0-312-08271-1)

Most crime writers use the rain-slicked streets of the French Quarter to evoke the spirit of film noir, but Donaldson is more interested in New Orleans' gothic tradition, pitting his heroes--criminal psychologist Kit Franklin and medical examiner Andy Broussard--against all variety of blood-curdling antagonists werewolves, alligators, wild boars). …

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