The Power of the Spoken Word: Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke

Black Cherry Blues


Yesterday I had a road trip from East Texas to the Florida Panhandle.  In preparation for the journey I loaded Black Cherry Blues by James Lee Burke on my smart phone via the Audible app. Mark Hammer narrated it.

It is hard for me to describe the impact listening to Burke’s Dave Robicheaux book had on me as I traveled.

For instance, about an hour into my trip I reached Shreveport, Louisiana, on Interstate 20. There I had a decision to make.

The decision was prompted by James Lee Burke.

For you see, Black Cherry Blues begins and inhabits the geographical zone bordered on the east by the Mississippi river, the north by somewhere close to Lafayette, Louisiana, the west by the Texas state line, the south by the Gulf of Mexico.


What was the decision?

I had to decide whether I would head due east on I-20 to Vicksburg  then Jackson, or veer south and enter the land of Dave Robicheaux.  I knew if I went south I would become lost in the story and perhaps never re-surface.

I thought hard about it.

But I stayed the course and continued east on I-20.

At Vicksburg, I exited the highway and stood on the banks of the Mississippi at the place where the Yankees dealt the death blow to the Confederacy in the summer of 1863.

Even as I looked out at the Father of Waters my thoughts were on south Louisiana where Dave Robicheaux was fighting his demons.

By the time I reached Mobile, Alabama, I had lost all contact with the outside world and only lived in the world of the book.

Since I have tried my hand at audiobook narration for the last nine months or so, I have developed a keen appreciation for the art form, and the challenges narration presents.

Mark Hammer became Dave Robicheaux.  I have never heard a narration so true to the spirit of a book. I felt this way in spite of several mispronunciations along the way.  But those missteps simply reinforced in me how virtually impossible it is to cover all colloquialisms without an error or two.  How would you pronounce a river spelled Sabine?  How about a fish spelled bream?

It’s not Say-bine, not breem.

But I digress.

I have read quite a few Dave Robicheaux books, but I had not read Black Cherry Blues.

I won’t read it now on the written page because a master storyteller has read it aloud to me.  Looking at it on the printed page might refresh my memory of some of the passages, but it could not heighten the experience for me.

And, by the way, this coming Monday I will be heading back home.  This time at Mobile, I will stay straight on I-10 until I cross the Mississippi at Baton Rouge.  On the west side of the river, I will take the first exit and wind my way north and east through the mystical land of Acadiana, from whence I may never return.

I’ll tell Dave you said hey.


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