Talking with James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke, as listeners might expect, grew up in Cajun country. He and his cousin, the brilliant short story writer André Dubus, were born four months apart. Burke’s own literary accomplishments are no small feat. Referred to by Jonathan Kellerman as “the Faulkner of crime fiction,” Burke started his career with the publication of Half of Paradise in 1965. Not until his 1987 novel, Neon Rain, did he introduce Cajun cop Dave Robicheaux, who has consistently put Burke on the bestseller lists. Burke’s writing has a slow, methodical pace, like the flow of wind across the bayou, the vice and violence never gratuitous or sensational.
For the Simon & Schuster audiobook adaptation of his latest title, Jolie Blon’s Bounce, Burke provided an introduction, the first time he has sat in front of a microphone for any of his audiobooks. When asked if he would ever narrate his own work, he laughed, “No! It’s hard to do. Man, those guys just stay inside that sound booth for three days and somebody flings a sandwich at them. It takes a lot of coffee. Your mind cannot wander.”
Burke holds his own narrators, Will Patton and Mark Hammer, in high esteem. “They’re both real good. Will Patton is very good at regional accents. He can come across as truly villainous. Mark has a wonderful voice, and has done my work now for 10 years. It means a great deal to an author to have producers and artists who invest so much of their time creating a first-rate presentation for the listener. And these guys really do.”
Burke also enjoys listening to audiobooks. “My wife and I usually take a bunch of audiobooks with us on tour. We plug ’em in and head right across the great American desert from San Diego to Albuquerque.” He enjoys listening to contemporary nonfiction as well as classic titles. “If you listen to an actor read the material, it’s kind of like old-time radio. A good actor gives all kinds of dimension to the character.”—Steven E. Steinbock