NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR JAMES LEE BURKETHE NEON RAINDetective Dave Robicheaux has fought too many battles: in Vietnam, with killers and hustlers, with police brass, and with the bottle. Lost without his wife's love, Robicheaux's haunted soul mirrors the intensity and dusky mystery of New Orleans' French Quarter -- the place he calls home, and the place that nearly destroys him when he becomes involved in the case of a young prostitute whose body is found in a bayou. Thrust into the world of drug lords and arms smugglers, Robicheaux must face down a subterranean criminal world and come to terms with his own bruised heart in order to survive.
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September 30, 2002
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Excerpt from The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke
Chapter OneThe evening sky was streaked with purple, the color of torn plums, and a light rain had started to fall when I came to the end of the blacktop road that cut through twenty miles of thick, almost impenetrable scrub oak and pine and stopped at the front gate of Angola penitentiary. The anti-capital-punishment crowd -- priests, nuns in lay clothes, kids from LSU with burning candles cupped in their hands -- were praying outside the fence. But another group was there too -- a strange combination of frat boys and rednecks -- drinking beer from Styrofoam coolers filled with cracked ice; they were singing "Glow, Little Glow Worm," and holding signs that read THIS BUD IS FOR YOU, MASSINA AND JOHNNY, START YOUR OWN SIZZLER FRANCHISE TODAY."I'm Lieutenant Dave Robicheaux, New Orleans police department," I said to one of the guards on the gate. I opened my badge for him."Oh yeah, Lieutenant. I got your name on my clipboard. I'll ride with you up to the Block," he said, and got in my car. His khaki sleeves were rolled over his sunburned arms, and he had the flat green eyes and heavy facial bones of north Louisiana hill people. He smelled faintly of dried sweat, Red Man, and talcum powder. "I don't know which bunch bothers me worse. Those religious people act like we're frying somebody for a traffic citation, and those boys with the signs must not be getting much pussy over at the university. You staying for the whole thing?""Nope.""Did you nail this guy or something?""He was just a low-level button man I used to run in once in a while. I never got him on anything. In fact, I think he screwed up more jobs than he pulled off. Maybe he got into the mob through Affirmative Action."The guard didn't laugh. He looked out the window at the huge, flat expanse of the prison farm, his eyes narrowing whenever we passed a trusty convict walking along the dirt road. The main living area of the prison, a series of two-story, maximum-security dormitories contained within a wire fence and connected by breezeways and exercise yards and collectively called the Block, was as brilliantly lit as cobalt in the rain, and in the distance I could see the surgically perfect fields of sugar cane and sweet potatoes, the crumbling ruins of the nineteenth-century camps silhouetted against the sun's red afterglow, the willows bent in the breeze along the Mississippi levee, under which many a murdered convict lay buried."They still keep the chair in the Red Hat House?" I said."You got it. That's where they knock the fire out their ass. You know how the place come by that name?""Yes," I said, but he wasn't listening."Back before they started putting the mean ones in lockdown in the Block, they worked them down by the river and made them wear striped jumpers and these red-painted straw hats. Then at night they stripped them down, body-searched them, then run them into the Red Hat House and threw their clothes in after them. There wasn't no screens on the windows, and them mosquitoes would make a Christian out of a man when a baseball bat couldn't."I parked the car and we entered the Block, passed through the first lockdown area, where both the snitches and the dangerous ones stayed, walked down the long, brilliantly lit breezeway between the recreation yards into the next dormitory, passed through another set of hydraulic locks and a dead space where two hacks sat at a table playing cards and where a sign overhead read no guns beyond this point, into the rec and dining halls where the black trustees were running electric waxers on the gleaming floors, and finally walked up the spiral iron steps to a small maximum-security corner where Johnny Massina was spending the last three hours of his life.The guard from the gate left me, and another one pulled the single lever that slid back the cell door. Johnny wore a white shirt, a pair of black slacks, and black Air Force shoes with white socks. His w