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It is obvious Dan Z has no imagination... bless him.
It should be called Jolie Blon’s Blunder
Maybe he should go back and read Bambi....
I just stopped reading James Lee Burke’s Jolie Blon’s Bounce. I didn’t finish, I stopped. Mr. Burke’s books receive several positive reviews from several sources, so I feel I must be missing something. Jolie Blon’s Bounce is the first book of Mr. Burke’s books I read. I realize it continues the saga of Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux, but I operated under the false impression that there would be sufficient background information to get me up to speed enough to enjoy the story. I was wrong, and this deficiency is just one of the reasons I stopped reading this book.
An inability to get a firm grasp of time proved another problem with the book. The book opens in the 1940’s during World War II with Dave reflecting about how New Iberia looked way back when. Then he is 12. Is it the 1950’s? Are we still in the 40’s? I don’t know and after 240 pages I still didn’t. Cut to present day. What present? 1960’s? The 70’s? Wait, there is a reference to DNA testing to solve the first murder. So, maybe the 1980’s? Wait, now we’re talking about rap music. Late 80’s? Early 90’s? How old is Dave? We then discover the age of one of the antagonists, Legion Guidry. He is 74. Dave ran into him when he was 12. I shouldn’t have to do this much math to get an understanding of the timeframe of the book.
But this is just part of the time problem with the book. From page to page, break to break I never know if 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 month or maybe even 1 year has passed. One moment Mr. Burke describes a tree barren of leaves in the winter, but then talks about high humidity and heat lightning, events that usually occur in the summer months. By the time I stopped reading, I had no idea if when the story occurs, how long it took for the plot to unfold, and, frankly, stopped caring because other, more heinous problems caused me to cease reading the work altogether.
Among these problems is backstory. As previously mentioned I knew going in that this book continued a series. However, this is not the first time I picked up a book mid-series. I began Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series somewhere other than A. Likewise, I began Lawrence Block’s Burglar books, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum and Elizabeth Peter’s Egyptian mysteries with works other then the first. In all the above examples I knew I lacked knowledge of some events, but never enough to hinder the plot or my enjoyment of the book. In fact, in all the stated examples, my curiosity was piqued enough to read the preceding stories. I can only hope Mr. Burke’s go out of print.
Mr. Burke also failed to generate interest in the local and social environment of his story. He sprinkled musical references throughout the work (which further muddied the waters of time), but at no time did I feel compelled to care about the music, it added no dimension to an terribly flat story. Perhaps Mr. Burke should read Elmore Leonard’s Tishomingo Blues. The blues music referenced in the story help give the story shape, it helped define the characters, and most of all, it prompted me to delve more deeply into my own knowledge and listening of the blues. I have some zydeco in my music library. I am familiar with the term and style. Mr. Burke does not utilize the genre to add anything to his characters or story, which is a pity, because I know it could have been done.
I also could not connect with the society of Jolie Blon’s Bounce. This was in part due to the time problem, but it also aided in the time frame confusion. The Negro/Colored/Black characters living conditions and treatment seemed to indicate a late 50’s, early 60’s time period. Verbal interactions and the outdated terms of reference stated in the last sentence confounded my ability to grasp the era of the novel. Perhaps I am naive, but I find it hard to believe such conditions as Mr. Burke described exist in 2011. Even if the novel does take place in an earlier time, one in which such racism occurred, Mr. Burke failed to engage my empathy for the characters.
This lack of empathy is the capstone of all that is wrong with this novel. Dave Robicheaux’s entire methodology seems to be traveling around, smarting off to people, engaging in random, unnecessary and unproductive acts of violence, insulting other characters then expecting help from them. And somewhere along the line he ends up addicted to uppers. And then has Vietnam flash backs. And seems to know nothing about the people in a town where, given the opening, he grew up, relying on his seldom seen partner, Helen, to provide local history even though she is from New Orleans. Which, by the way, is were Dave was kicked off the force. (See discussion of backstory.)
In closing, I have read bad books before. I returned a loaned copy of Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth after less than 100 pages. James Michener’s Alaska made me catatonic and I sold it to a half-price book store. Mr. Burke’s book is the first I have discarded, wanting to save other readers from a similar fate.
Jolie Blon's Bounce is one of James Lee Burke's best books. He has written it so you can visualize the waves in the water and the dew on the leaves and the crickets chirping on the bayou. He makes his characters come alive and you hate for the story to end. As usual its a book you can't put down until its finished. You don't know "who done it" until the very end. Bootsie, Robichaeux's wife, is not in this novel very much. That is my one complaint.
I'd also recommend that you get the audio version. It has a recording of "Jolie Blon" an old blues song on it and I think the song is worth hearing. Also, the gentleman who records all Jame Lee Burke's books does a wonderful job as usual.