Mysterious Book Report Light of the WorldThe Light of the World by James Lee Burke

Simon & Shuster, $27.99, 548 pages, ISBN 978-1-4767-1076-1

This week’s MBR is a review of an author I’ve admired and read diligently for the past twenty-some years . . . ever since I heard him interviewed by Terry Gross on National Public Radio one afternoon as I waited in the car.  The author’s name is James Lee Burke.  He’s been called “America’s best Novelist,” by The Denver Post, awarded two Edgars by the Mystery Writers of America and lauded as a Grand Master as well.  He’s been called “The reigning champ of nostalgia noir,” by The New York Times and “A modern master” by Publishers Weekly.  All mighty praise indeed, to which I can only add this humble coda:  James Lee Burke not only inspires me, he’s the author I most aspire to be like.  He is the only author I consistently re-read . . . and continue to find additional sources of inspiration and admiration with every reading.

The Light of the World is Burke’s thirty-second novel and his twentieth in the Dave Robicheux series.  In this one, an aging Robicheux and his best friend and ally, a fiercely loyal, violent and tortured soul named Clete Purcel, are vacationing in Montana.  They’re staying at the ranch of an old friend, a writer, retired professor and environmentalist named Albert Hollister, with Dave’s wife Molly his daughter, Alafair and Clete’s daughter Gretchen.  Their laid back and idyllic vacation is cut short however, when Alafair is nearly killed by someone using a bow and razor-sharp hunting arrow, and the hunt is on for one of the most diabolic, sinister and evil characters Burke has ever created: a sadistic serial killer named Asa Surette.  He’s a man the authorities have declared dead . . .and one who may possess supernatural abilities . . . who is the most frightening adversary Robicheux has ever faced.  The cast of characters grows as the novel progresses, to include a demented rodeo clown, an oil baron and his pampered, criminally-bent son whose abused and promiscuous wife has an illicit relationship with one of the principal characters; then throw in a couple of shady lawmen whom Robicheux and Purcel run afoul of  . . . and the action never stops while the tension ratchets up to a nearly unbearable level before the shattering conclusion that leaves more dead bodies than a Shakespearian tragedy.

Although long-term readers of Burke’s work may find it a bit on the formulaic side, the story arc, action and, oh yes, the author’s musings about the eternal battle between the forces of good and evil will be enough to make any reader, like me, a fan of James Lee Burke.  His body of work is unsurpassed in the world of crime fiction, and stands side by side with the best writers of all time.


John Dwaine McKenna