Cover image for Sunset limited
Sunset limited
Burke, James Lee, 1936-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 1998.
Physical Description:
309 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
Clarence Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Clearfield Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Grand Island Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Lancaster Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Orchard Park Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
Anna M. Reinstein Library X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

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Detective Dave Robicheaux re-turns to center stage in an incendiary new novel by James Lee Burke. A gripping tale of racial violence, class warfare, and the sometimes cruel legacy of Southern history,Sunset Limitedis a stunning achievement, confirming Burke's place as one of America's premier stylists as well as master storytellers.  "Not since Raymond Chandler has anyone so thoroughly reinvented the crime and mystery genre," said novelist Jim Harrison, and inSunset LimitedBurke continues to carve out new territory. As always in the fiction of James Lee Burke, the past impinges on the present: The forty-year-old crucifixion of a prominent labor leader named Jack Flynn remains an unsolved atrocity that has never been forgotten in New Iberia, Louisiana.  When Flynn's daughter, Megan, a photojournalist drawn to controversial subjects, returns to the site of her father's murder, it quickly becomes clear that her family's bloodstained past will not stay buried. Megan gives her old friend Dave Robicheaux a tip about a small-time criminal named Cool Breeze Broussard, scarcely suspecting that the seemingly innocuous case will lead Robicheaux and his partner, Helen Soileau, into the midst of a deadly conspiracy.  As New Orleans mobsters and mysterious hit men converge on his parish, Robicheaux soon finds that all the clues point back in time to the tortured death of Jack Flynn. Combining brilliant prose, crackling suspense, and an exquisite sense of character and place,Sunset Limitedis a wrenching tale of historic violence and soiled redemption that reveals one of America's finest novelists at his masterful best.

Author Notes

James Lee Burke, winner of two Edgar awards, is the author of nineteen previous novels, many of them "New York Times" bestsellers, including "Cimmaron Rose", Cadillac Jukebox", & "Sunset Limited". He & his wife divide their time between Missoula, Montana, & New Iberia, Louisiana.

(Publisher Provided) James Lee Burke was born in Houston, Texas on December 5, 1936. He received a B. A. in English and an M. A. from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960, respectively. Before becoming a full-time author, he worked as a land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, social worker, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps.

His novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He writes the Dave Robicheaux series and the Billy Bob Holland series. He has won numerous awards including the CWA/Macallan Gold Dagger for fiction for Sunset Limited and the Edgar Award in 1989 for Black Cherry Blues and in 1997 for Cimarron Rose. His short stories have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, New Stories from the South, Best American Short Stories, Antioch Review, Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. Two of his novels, Heaven's Prisoners and Two for Texas, have been made into motion pictures starring Alec Baldwin and Tommy Lee Jones, respectively. He made The New York Times High Profiles List with Wayfaring Stranger.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It looks and feels like nearly every other Dave Robicheaux novel, but if you look a little closer, feel a little deeper, you'll find something buried there that gives this tenth entry in the acclaimed series its own luster. Yes, there's a serious bad guy whom New Iberia, Louisiana, cop Dave must confront; yes, there's the distinctive Cajun ambience and worldview surrounding the action and driving Dave to both noble gestures and bursts of anger-fueled violence; and, yes, there's coffee and beignets at New Orleans' Cafedu Monde. Burke has never shied away from using the rhythms of formula as a kind of familiar backbeat; he knows that formula attracts more readers than it repels, but he also knows how important it is in a long-running series to keep the melody line fresh. The underlying conflict in this series has always been Dave and his Cajun way of life versus the modern world; this time, the focus turns toward the past. When several incidents in New Iberia recall the decades-old crucifixion of a labor organizer, Dave vows to solve the unsolved case and force the bayou community to confront its past and expunge its collective guilt. The trail backward also takes him into his own past and that of his dead parents, forcing some very personal stock-taking on those stormy nights when the rain pelts the tin roof of Dave's bait shop: "I never underestimated the power of the rain or the potential of the dead or denied them their presence in the world." Just as we should never underestimate Burke's ability to twist formula in new directions, always spicing the literary comfort food that is genre fiction with a distinctive new tang. (Reviewed April 15, 1998)0385488424Bill Ott

Publisher's Weekly Review

After stepping into stand-alone territory with Cimmaron Rose (1997), Burke choreographs a masterful return to the lush and brooding world of volatile New Iberia Sheriff's Deputy Dave Robicheaux (Cadillac Jukebox, 1996). This tale's strength lies in breathtaking, moody descriptive passages and incisive vignettes that set time, place and character. Burke's major themes, that the past is key to the present and that money buys power, pervade this mystery. The narrative, with more twists and bounces than a fish fighting a hook, rises from the violent, unsolved murder 40 years ago of union organizer Jack Flynn. The story encompasses at least eight disparate but interlocking subplots: the crooked money behind a movie directed by Flynn's son Cisco; the hold that ex-con Swede Boxleiter has on Cisco's photojournalist sister, Megan; Willie "Cool Breeze" Broussard's theft of a mob warehouse; his wife Ida's suicide 20 years ago; the shooting of two white brothers who raped a black woman; alcoholic Lisa Terrebonne's haunted childhood; her wealthy, arrogant father's ties to Harpo Scruggs, a vicious murderer; the post-Civil War killing by freed slaves of a Terrebonne servant. Hired assassins, snitches, lawmen and FBI agents weave through the novel. Dave and his partner Detective Helen Soileau find the connections, but Dave knows that in the ongoing class war, the worst criminals wield too much influence to pay for their crimes. In rich, dense prose, Burke conjures up bizarre, believable characters who inhabit vivid, spellbinding scenes in a multifaceted, engrossing plot. $300,000 ad/promo; author tour. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux is back, as polite as ever, after sitting out Burke's Cimarron Rose (LJ 6/15/97). Accompanying Dave is his buddy Clete and a marvelous cast of charactersÄdowntrodden Cool Breeze Broussard, tortured Lila Terrebonne, slimy Harpo Scruggs, and photojournalist Megan Flynn, whose father, a labor organizer, was crucified on a barn wall 40 years ago. When Megan, still haunted by her father's unsolved murder, returns to New Iberia, she sets in motion a series of events that draws Dave into the dark, twisting relationships of these tortured characters, who are intertwined in a plot too convoluted to summarize but that bears all the hallmarks of a Burke mysteryÄbloody racial sins from the past mixed with violent, inbred kinships that haunt the present. Once again, with strong and graceful prose, Burke presents a tale as dark and rich as a cup of chicory coffee. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/15/98.]ÄRebecca House Stankowski, Purdue Univ. Calumet Lib., Hammond, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The jailer, Alex Guidry, lived outside of town on a ten-acre horse farm devoid of trees or shade. The sun's heat pooled in the tin roofs of his outbuildings, and grit and desiccated manure blew out of his horse lots. His oblong 1960s red-brick house, its central-air-conditioning units roaring outside a back window twenty-four hours a day, looked like a utilitarian fortress constructed for no other purpose than to repel the elements. His family had worked for a sugar mill down toward New Orleans, and his wife's father used to sell Negro burial insurance, but I knew little else about him. He was one of those aging, well-preserved men with whom you associate a golf photo on the local sports page, membership in a self-congratulatory civic club, a charitable drive that is of no consequence. Or was there something else, a vague and ugly story years back?  I couldn't remember. Sunday afternoon I parked my pickup truck by his stable and walked past a chain-link dog pen to the riding ring. The dog pen exploded with the barking of two German shepherds who caromed off the fencing, their teeth bared, their paws skittering the feces that lay baked on the hot concrete pad. Alex Guidry cantered a black gelding in a circle, his booted calves fitted with English spurs. The gelding's neck and sides were iridescent with sweat. Guidry sawed the bit back in the gelding's mouth. "What is it?" he said. "I'm Dave Robicheaux. I called earlier." He wore tan riding pants and a form-fitting white polo shirt. He dismounted and wiped the sweat off his face with a towel and threw it to a black man who had come out of the stable to take the horse. "You want to know if this guy Broussard was in the detention chair?  The answer is no," he said. "He says you've put other inmates in there. For days." "Then he's lying." "You have a detention chair, though, don't you?" "For inmates who are out of control, who don't respond to Isolation." "You gag them?" "No." I rubbed the back of my neck and looked at the dog pen. The water bowl was turned over and flies boiled in the door of the small doghouse that gave the only relief from the sun. "You've got a lot of room here. You can't let your dogs run?" I said. I tried to smile. "Anything else, Mr. Robicheaux?" "Yeah. Nothing better happen to Cool Breeze while he's in your custody." "I'll keep that in mind, sir. Close the gate on your way out, please." I got back in my truck and drove down the shell road toward the cattle guard. A half dozen Red Angus grazed in Guidry's pasture, while snowy egrets perched on their backs. Then I remembered. It was ten or eleven years back, and Alex Guidry had been charged with shooting a neighbor's dog. Guidry had claimed the dog had attacked one of his calves and eaten its entrails, but the neighbor told another story, that Guidry had baited a steel trap for the animal and had killed it out of sheer meanness. I looked into the rearview mirror and saw him watching me from the end of the shell drive, his legs slightly spread, a leather riding crop hanging from his wrist. Monday morning I returned to work at the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Department and took my mail out of my pigeonhole and tapped on the sheriff's office. He tilted back in his swivel chair and smiled when he saw me. His jowls were flecked with tiny blue and red veins that looked like fresh ink on a map when his temper flared. He had shaved too close and there was a piece of bloody tissue paper stuck in the cleft in his chin. Unconsciously he kept stuffing his shirt down over his paunch into his gunbelt. "You mind if I come back to work a week early?" I asked. "This have anything to do with Cool Breeze Broussard's complaint to the Justice Department?" "I went out to Alex Guidry's place yesterday. How'd we end up with a guy like that as our jailer?" "It's not a job people line up for," the sheriff said. He scratched his forehead. "You've got an FBI agent in your office right now, some gal named Adrien Glazier. You know her?" "Nope. How'd she know I was going to be here?" "She called your house first. Your wife told her. Anyway, I'm glad you're back. I want this bullshit at the jail cleared up. We just got a very weird case that was thrown in our face from St. Mary Parish." He opened a manila folder and put on his glasses and peered down at the fax sheets in his fingers. This is the story he told me. Three months ago, under a moon haloed with a rain ring and sky filled with dust blowing out of the sugarcane fields, a seventeen-year-old black girl named Sunshine Labiche claimed two white boys forced her car off a dirt road into a ditch. They dragged her from behind the wheel, walked her by each arm into a cane field, then took turns raping and sodomizing her. The next morning she identified both boys from a book of mug shots. They were brothers, from St. Mary Parish, but four months earlier they had been arrested for a convenience store holdup in New Iberia and had been released for lack of evidence. This time they should have gone down. They didn't. Both had alibis, and the girl admitted she had been smoking rock with her boyfriend before she was raped. She dropped the charges. Late Saturday afternoon an unmarked car came to the farmhouse of the two brothers over in St. Mary Parish. The father, who was bedridden in the front room, watched the visitors, unbeknown to them, through a crack in the blinds. The driver of the car wore a green uniform, like sheriff's deputies in Iberia Parish, and sunglasses and stayed behind the wheel, while a second man, in civilian clothes and a Panama hat, went to the gallery and explained to the two brothers they only had to clear up a couple of questions in New Iberia, then they would be driven back home. "It ain't gonna take five minutes. We know you boys didn't have to come all the way over to Iberia Parish just to change your luck," he said. The brothers were not cuffed; in fact, they were allowed to take a twelve-pack of beer with them to drink in the back seat. A half hour later, just at sunset, a student from USL, who was camped out in the Atchafalaya swamp, looked through the flooded willow and gum trees that surrounded his houseboat and saw a car stop on the levee. Two older men and two boys got out. One of the older men wore a uniform. They all held cans of beer in their hands; all of them urinated off the levee into the cattails. Then the two boys, dressed in jeans and Clorox-stained print shirts with the sleeves cut off at the armpits, realized something was wrong. They turned and stared stupidly at their companions, who had stepped backward up the levee and were now holding pistols in their hands. The boys tried to argue, holding their palms outward, as though they were pushing back an invisible adversary. Their arms were olive with suntan, scrolled with reformatory tattoos, their hair spiked in points with butch wax. The man in uniform raised his gun and shouted an unintelligible order at them, motioning at the ground. When the boys did not respond, the second armed man, who wore a Panama hat, turned them toward the water with his hand, almost gently, inserted his shoe against the calf of one, then the other, pushing them to their knees, as though he were arranging manikins in a show window. Then he rejoined the man in uniform up the bank. One of the boys kept looking back fearfully over his shoulder. The other was weeping uncontrollably, his chin tilted upward, his arms stiff at his sides, his eyes tightly shut. The men with guns were silhouetted against a molten red sun that had sunk across the top of the levee. Just as a flock of ducks flapped across the sun, the gunmen clasped their weapons with both hands and started shooting. But because of the fading light, or perhaps the nature of their deed, their aim was bad. Both victims tried to rise from their knees, their bodies convulsing simultaneously from the impact of the rounds. The witness said, "Their guns just kept popping. It looked like somebody was blowing chunks out of a watermelon." After it was over, smoke drifted out over the water and the shooter in the Panama hat took close-up flash pictures with a Polaroid camera. The witness used a pair of binoculars. He says the guy in the green uniform had our department patch on his sleeve," the sheriff said. "White rogue cops avenging the rape of a black girl?" "Look, get that FBI agent out of here, will you?" He looked at the question in my face. "She's got a broom up her ass." He rubbed his fingers across his mouth. "Did I say that?  I'm going to go back to the laundry business. A bad day used to be washing somebody's golf socks," he said. I looked through my office window at the FBI agent named Adrien Glazier. She sat with her legs crossed, her back to me, in a powder-blue suit and white blouse, writing on a legal pad. Her handwriting was filled with severe slants and slashes, with points in the letters that reminded me of incisor teeth. When I opened the door she looked at me with ice-blue eyes that could have been taken out of a Viking's face. "I visited William Broussard last night. He seems to think you're going to get him out of the parish prison," she said. "Cool Breeze?  He knows better than that." "Does he?" I waited. Her hair was ash-blond, wispy and broken on the ends, her face big-boned and adversarial. She was one of those you instinctively know have a carefully nursed reservoir of anger they draw upon as needed, in the same way others make use of daily prayer. My stare broke. "Sorry. Is that a question?" I said. "You don't have any business indicating to this man you can make deals for him," she said. I sat down behind my desk and glanced out the window, wishing I could escape back into the coolness of the morning, the streets that were sprinkled with rain, the palm fronds lifting and clattering in the wind. I picked up a stray paper clip and dropped it in my desk drawer and closed the drawer. Her eyes never left my face or relented in their accusation. "What if the prosecutor's office does cut him loose? What's it to you?" I said. "You're interfering in a federal investigation. Evidently you have a reputation for it." "I think the truth is you want his cojones in a vise. You'll arrange some slack for him after he rats out some guys you can't make a case against." She uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. She cocked her elbow on my desk and let one finger droop forward at my face. "Megan Flynn is an opportunistic bitch. What she didn't get on her back, she got through posing as the Joan of Arc of oppressed people. You let her and her brother jerk your pud, then you're dumber than the people in my office say you are," she said. "This has to be a put-on." She pulled a manila folder out from under her legal pad and dropped it on my desk blotter. "Those photos are of a guy named Swede Boxleiter. They were taken in the yard at the Colorado state pen in Canon City. What they don't show is the murder he committed in broad daylight with a camera following him around the yard. That's how good he is," she said. His head and face were like those of a misshaped Marxist intellectual, the yellow hair close-cropped on the scalp, the forehead and brainpan too large, the cheeks tapering away to a mouth that was so small it looked obscene. He wore granny glasses on a chiseled nose, and a rotted and torn weight lifter's shirt on a torso that rippled with cartilage. The shots had been taken from an upper story or guard tower with a zoom lens. They showed him moving through the clusters of convicts in the yard, faces turning toward him the way bait fish reflect light when a barracuda swims toward their perimeter. A fat man was leaning against the far wall, one hand squeezed on his scrotum, while he told a story to a half circle of his fellow inmates. His lips were twisted with a word he was forming, purple from a lollypop he had been eating. The man named Swede Boxleiter passed an inmate who held a tape-wrapped ribbon of silver behind his back. After Swede Boxleiter had walked by, the man whose palm seemed to have caught the sun like a heliograph now had his hands stuffed in his pockets. The second-to-last photo showed a crowd at the wall like early men gathered on the rim of a pit to witness the death throes and communal roasting of an impaled mammoth. Then the yard was empty, except for the fat man, the gash across his windpipe bubbling with saliva and blood, the tape-wrapped shank discarded in the red soup on his chest. "Boxleiter is buddies with Cisco Flynn. They were in the same state home in Denver. Maybe you'll get to meet him. He got out three days ago," she said. "Ms. Glazier, I'd like to--" "It's Special Agent Glazier." "Right. I'd like to talk with you, but . . . Look, why not let us take care of our own problems?" "What a laugh." She stood up and gazed down at me. "Here it is. Hong Kong is going to become the property of Mainland China soon. There're some people we want to put out of business before we have to deal with Beijing to get at them. Got the big picture?" "Not really. You know how it is out here in the provinces, swatting mosquitoes, arresting people for stealing hog manure, that sort of thing." She laughed to herself and dropped her card on my desk, then walked out of my office and left the door open as though she would not touch anything in our department unless it was absolutely necessary. At noon I drove down the dirt road by the bayou toward my dock and bait shop. Through the oak trees that lined the shoulder I could see the wide gallery and purple-streaked tin roof of my house up the slope. It had rained again during the morning, and the cypress planks in the walls were stained the color of dark tea, the hanging baskets of impatiens blowing strings of water in the wind. My adopted daughter Alafair, whom I had pulled from a submerged plane wreck out on the salt when she was a little girl, sat in her pirogue on the far side of the bayou, fly-casting a popping bug into the shallows. I walked down on the dock and leaned against the railing. I could smell the salty odor of humus and schooled-up fish and trapped water out in the swamp. Alafair's skin was bladed with the shadows of a willow tree, her hair tied up on her head with a blue bandanna, her hair so black it seemed to fill with lights when she brushed it. She had been born in a primitive village in El Salvador, her family the target of death squads because they had sold a case of Pepsi-Cola to the rebels. Now she was almost sixteen, her Spanish and early childhood all but forgotten. But sometimes at night she cried out in her sleep and would have to be shaken from dreams filled with the marching boots of soldiers, peasants with their thumbs wired together behind them, the dry ratcheting sound of a bolt being pulled back on an automatic weapon. "Wrong time of day and too much rain," I said. "Oh, yeah?" she said. She lifted the fly rod into the air, whipping the popping bug over her head, then laying it on the edge of the lily pads. She flicked her wrist so the bug popped audibly in the water Excerpted from Sunset Limited by James Lee Burke All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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