A prolific author of mystery novels, he rose to fame through such works as his Dave Robicheaux series. His other series include the Billy Bob Holland and Hackberry Holland trilogies.
He graduated from both the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Missouri. He worked in the oil industry before becoming a journalist.
He taught creative writing at Wichita State University.
With his wife, Pearl, he had a daughter, Alafair Burke, who also became a successful crime writer. He and his wife were also parents to three other children.
He was the 2002 recipient of the Louisiana Writer Award. The honor was presented to him by former Lt. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco.