The Bayou Trilogy: Under the Bright Lights, Muscle for the Wing, and The Ones You Do by Daniel Woodrell


The Bayou TrilogyReviewed by Teri Davis

It is rare to read a series of three novellas within one cover, but that best describes The Bayou Trilogy. Each short novella features Rene Shade, a policeman from the swamp area of Louisiana known as St. Bruno. Rene’s family has an eclectic background as he has one brother who owns and runs a bar and the other brother is a successful attorney. The relationship between the three is as varied as their chosen occupations.

Rene Shade grew up becoming a boxer and finally becoming a policeman. Unfortunately, Rene dishes out his justice through using knowing of the people and families from his life in St. Bruno. Through
understanding the people, who or what is important to them, he solves the criminal investigations through his own version of justice frequently not having the approval of his superiors.

In Bright Lights which was first published in 1986, the investigation is about a black city councilman’s murder. Muscle for the Wing from 1988 is about a group of paroled convicts who are on a spree of robbing and killing anyone who gets in their way. In The One You Do from 1992, Rene’s father who has been absent for years, appears back in St. Bruno with his ten-year-old daughter from another woman. Being that his father was a former pool hall hustler, no one is surprised that someone wants the father dead.

These stories are rich in the history and culture of the bayou. Their violent lifestyle and daily struggle with people of this area feels authentic. The drinking of alcohol is part of their daily diet. With their language, dialects, lack of education, corruption of local politics, and backwoods traditions it gives the reader a sense of this area and their alternative justice system.

At first, I found this trilogy disturbing because it was so realistic. Daniel Woodrell masterfully places his readers with the protagonist while discovering the facts and dishing out justice. This trilogy is a wonderful example of a different type of fiction known as “country noir” and is from a part of the country that seldom opens a window into their lives.

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