July 18, 2013

Evil stalks good in Burke’s 20th Robicheaux novel

By James Lee Burke
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Fans of James Lee Burke’s long-running Dave Robicheaux series (20 books, if you’re counting) will cheer the release of his new novel—it’s the perfect book to sink into and while away a hot, muggy summer evening. In Light of the World, the Louisiana detective is in Montana enjoying a crisp, clear, windblown summer along with wife Molly, daughter Alafair, buddy Clete and Clete’s daughter, Gretchen, recently introduced in the series.

But the breezes and mountain vistas take second shift as the novel progresses. Alafair is convinced someone is watching her, a lurking presence in town and out in the backcountry. She’s certain she recognizes her stalker. But how could it be convicted serial killer Asa Surrette, who supposedly met a recent fiery death when the prison van in which he was riding collided with an oil tanker? If it is Surrette, he’s got a big score to settle with lawyer and novelist Alafair, who heaped literary coals on Surrette’s head at the time of his trial and sentencing. The pristine mountain landscape is suddenly clouded, with every cave and hideaway a potential lair for the evil that seems bent on pursuing the Robicheaux crew.

Burke is at the peak of his formidable descriptive powers here, depicting violence at every turn and terror in the dark places of mind and landscape. He is at his best when he presents a circus of oddments who make their indelible mark in this marvelous hunk of a story—including Wyatt Dixon, a cowboy and self-described rodeo man whose eccentricities—including speaking in tongues—mask a steely readiness for battle. When Wyatt is protecting his newfound girlfriend, Miss Bertha, Burke describes how the cowboy’s “upper body was streaming with sweat and stenciled with nests of veins when he struck the first blow.” There’s a badass detective named Jack Boyd and a creamy-skinned “nocturnal flower” named Felicity. And Dave himself takes a scary turn toward the Scriptural in a battle of his own against the devil he knows or imagines.

Dave and Clete intersperse their meditations on the limits of rationality and the battle between good and evil with episodes of starkly drawn suspense, with Burke’s hard-edged, offbeat humor always at the ready. Everyone’s familiar with buddy flicks, but this variation beats all, in a climactic battle of dads and daughters against the forces of evil.

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Light of the World

Light of the World

By James Lee Burke
Simon & Schuster
ISBN 9781476710761

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