Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
James Lee Burke was born on December 5, 1936, in Houston, Texas. His mother was a Texan and his father a native of New Iberia, Louisiana, who worked for the oil and gas industry in the region. Early in his life Burke determined to become a writer. After completing high school, he enrolled at Southwestern Louisiana Institute (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) but did not graduate. Later he enrolled at the University of Missouri, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1959 and a master’s degree the following year.
Burke’s first published works are what could be considered mainstream fiction. Modest success came relatively early. Half of Paradise (1965), a novel he completed when he was only twenty-three, was published to critical acclaim in 1965, and his next work, To the Bright and Shining Sun (1970), received a similar reception when it appeared in 1970. However, his third novel, Lay Down My Sword and Shield (1971), did not fare as well; critics panned it, and for fifteen years after it appeared in 1971, Burke did not sell another novel to a major publisher. To support himself, he worked at a variety of jobs, including social worker, oil-lease negotiator, newspaper reporter, and college English instructor. During the 1970’s he fought alcoholism, finally achieving sobriety with the help of a twelve-step program in 1977.
After the publication of his third novel, he continued to write and submit his work for...
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