Read A Stained White Radiance Online

Authors: James Lee Burke

A Stained White Radiance

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“One of the very best American crime writers”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

James Lee Burke has penned eighteen superb thrillers featuring resilient Louisiana lawman Dave Robicheaux. Now, fans will rejoice at the return of this splendid entry, fifth in the
New York Times
bestselling series, back in print once more!

Accolades for Edgar Award–winning author James Lee Burke and


“James Lee Burke is the best writer of detective fiction on the American scene and
A Stained White Radiance
is proof. . . . Burke can make his people and places seem outrageously alive.”

—San Francisco Examiner

“It takes off like a rocket. . . . His action scenes crackle.”

—Chicago Tribune

“One of his best.”

—The Times-Picayune
(New Orleans)

“A wild, bumpy, teeth-jarring ride. . . . [A] cinematically fast-paced yet reflective crime novel. . . . Passages of lyric beauty and passages of explicit horror make it vintage Burke. . . . He has created, in Dave Robicheaux, a complex and convincing protagonist. . . . Among even his talented contemporaries, Burke is something special.”

Joyce Carol Oates,
Washington Post Book World

This title is also available from Simon & Schuster Audio

“American crime fiction has no finer prose stylist than James Lee Burke, and he has never been better than in
A Stained White Radiance
. . . . He is . . . uncommonly concerned with and eloquent about the textures and stresses of his times.”

—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Fine entertainment . . . a rich depiction of a people and a place.”

—The New Yorker

“Burke writes dark, powerful stories. Present in this fifth novel in the series is a sense of how fragile life is and how quickly it can rip apart.”

—Star Tribune
(Minneapolis-St. Paul)

“Burke's richest, most biting view of the New South.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“Wonderful. . . . An intense and at times electrifying reflection on the degeneration and tenacity of society and family . . . There is violence, too, as foul and mean as violence is—not the tinny crashing around that masquerades as narrative thunder in some detective novels. . . . You have to look hard to find a better writer of crime fiction.”

—Detroit Free Press

“An emotional, powerful, and sometimes disturbing novel written by a master stylist.”

—Orlando Sentinel

“Superb. . . . It delivers what Burke has always promised his fans.”

—Entertainment Weekly

More nationwide acclaim for the astonishing James Lee Burke

“Burke can touch you in ways few writers can.”

—The Washington Post

“Flat-out the best mystery writer in America.”

—The Oregonian

“Burke is brilliant . . . One of the finest suspense novelists to grace our time.”

—Tulsa World

“I don't think there's a more lyrical writer of crime fiction than James Lee Burke working today.”

—The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Burke is a master.”

—The Kansas City Star

“Nobody captures the spirit of Gulf Coast Louisiana better.”

—Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Burke's descriptive powers are poetic.”

—Rocky Mountain News

“Burke keeps a reader's blood pumping.”

—Los Angeles Times

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For Farrel and Patty Lemoine and my old twelve-string partner, Murphy Dowouis



Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17


About James Lee Burke


I would like to thank the following people for all the support and help they have given me over the years: Fran Majors of Wichita, Kansas, who typed and copyedited my manuscripts and was always my loyal friend; Patricia Mulcahy, my editor, who put her career on the line for me more than once; Dick and Patricia Karlan, my film agents whose commitment and faithful advocacy I will never be able to repay; and finally my literary agent, Phillip G. Spitzer, one of the most honorable and fine men I've ever known, the only agent in New York who would keep my novel
The Lost Get-Back Boogie
under submission for nine years, making the rounds of almost one hundred publishers, until it found a home.


Sonnier family all my life. I had attended the Catholic elementary school in New Iberia with three of them, had served with one of them in Vietnam, and for a short time had dated Drew, the youngest child, before I went away to the war. But, as I learned with Drew, the Sonniers belonged to that group of people whom you like from afar, not because of what they are themselves, but because of what they represent—a failure in the way that they're put together, a collapse of some genetic or familial element that should be the glue of humanity.

The background of the Sonnier children was one that you instinctively knew you didn't want to know more about, in the same way that you don't want to hear the story of a desperate and driven soul in an after-hours bar. As a police officer it has been my experience that pedophiles are able to operate and stay functional over long periods of time and victimize scores, even hundreds, of children, because no one wants to believe his or her own intuitions about the symptoms in the perpetrator.
We are repelled and sickened by the images that our own minds suggest, and we hope against hope that the problem is in reality simply one of misperception.

Systematic physical cruelty toward children belongs in the same shoebox. Nobody wants to deal with it. I cannot remember one occasion, in my entire life, when I saw one adult interfere in a public place with the mistreatment of a child at the hands of another adult. Prosecutors often wince when they have to take a child abuser to trial, because usually the only witnesses they can use are children who are terrified at the prospect of testifying against their parents. And ironically a successful prosecution means that the victim will become a legal orphan, to be raised by foster parents or in a state institution that is little more than a warehouse for human beings.

As a child I saw the cigarette burns on the arms and legs of the Sonnier children. They were scabbed over and looked like coiled, gray worms. I came to believe that the Sonniers grew up in a furnace rather than a home.

It was a lovely spring day when the dispatcher at the Iberia Parish sheriff's office, where I worked as a plainclothes detective, called me at home and said that somebody had fired a gun through Weldon Sonnier's dining-room window and I could save time by going out there directly rather than reporting to the office first.

I was at my breakfast table, and through the open window I could smell the damp, fecund odor
of the hydrangeas in my flower bed and last night's rainwater dripping out of the pecan and oak trees in the yard. It was truly a fine morning, the early sunlight as soft as smoke in the tree limbs.

“Are you there, Dave?” the dispatcher said.

“Ask the sheriff to send someone else on this one,” I said.

“You don't like Weldon?”

“I like Weldon. I just don't like some of the things that probably go on in Weldon's head.”

“Okay, I'll tell the old man.”

“Never mind,” I said. “I'll head out there in about fifteen minutes. Give me the rest of it.”

“That's all we got. His wife called it in. He didn't. Does that sound like Weldon?” He laughed.

People said Weldon had spent over two hundred thousand dollars restoring his antebellum home out in the parish on Bayou Teche. It was built of weathered white-painted brick, with a wide columned porch, a second-floor verandah that wrapped all the way around the house, ventilated green window shutters, twin brick chimneys at each extreme of the house, and scrolled ironwork that had been taken from historical buildings in the New Orleans French Quarter. The long driveway that led from the road to the house was covered with a canopy of moss-hung live oaks, but Weldon Sonnier was not one to waste land space for the baroque and ornamental. All the property in front of the house, even the area down by the bayou where the slave quarters had once stood, had been leased to tenants who planted sugarcane on it.

It had always struck me as ironic that Weldon would pay out so much of his oil money in order to live in an antebellum home, whereas in fact he had grown up in an Acadian farmhouse that was over one hundred and fifty years old, a beautiful piece of hand-hewn, notched, and pegged cypress architecture that members of the New Iberia historical preservation society openly wept over when Weldon hired a group of half-drunk black men out of a ramshackle, backroad nightclub, gave them crowbars and axes, and calmly smoked a cigar and sipped from a glass of Cold Duck on top of a fence rail while they ripped the old Sonnier house into a pile of boards he later sold for two hundred dollars to a cabinetmaker.

When I drove my pickup truck down the driveway and parked under a spreading oak by the front porch, two uniformed deputies were waiting for me in their car, their front doors open to let in the breeze that blew across the shaded lawn. The driver, an ex-Houston cop named Garrett, a barrel of a man with a thick blond mustache and a face the color of a fresh sunburn, flipped his cigarette into the rose bed and stood up to meet me. He wore pilot's sunglasses, and a green dragon was tattooed around his right forearm. He was still new, and I didn't know him well, but I'd heard that he had resigned from the Houston force after he had been suspended during an Internal Affairs investigation.

“What do you have?” I said.

“Not much,” he said. “Mr. Sonnier says it was
probably an accident. Some kids hunting rabbits or something.”

“What does Mrs. Sonnier say?”

“She's eating tranquilizers in the breakfast room.”

“What does she

“Nothing, detective.”

“Call me Dave. You think it was just some kids?”

“Take a look at the size of the hole in the dining room wall and tell me.”

Then I saw him bite the corner of his lip at the abruptness in his tone. I started toward the front door.

“Dave, wait a minute,” he said, took off his glasses, and pinched the bridge of his nose. “While you were on vacation, the woman called us twice and reported a prowler. We came out and didn't find anything, so I marked it off. I thought maybe her terminals were a little fried.”

“They are. She's a pill addict.”

“She said she saw a guy with a scarred face looking through her window. She said it looked like red putty or something. The ground was wet, though, and I didn't see any footprints. But maybe she did see something. I probably should have checked it out a little better.”

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