Review: James Lee Burke manages to keep 20th in Robicheaux series fresh

LIGHT OF THE WORLD. By James Lee Burke. Simon & Schuster. 548 pages. $27.99.



The latest Dave Robicheaux crime fiction in the long-running series by the one-of-a-kind James Lee Burke suffers a little from all of the above.

“Light of the World” is set in the Montana mountains, with the New Iberia, La., detective on vacation with his family. He and they quickly find themselves on the wrong side of a series of attacks, a few scary miscreants, the local sheriff and a wealthy family who live in a mansion up on a hill. In other words, the setting and set-up resemble Burke’s recently published “Swan Peak” — resemble it closely enough that the reader gets confused early on whether he’s read this before.

“Light of the World” is Burke’s 20th Robicheaux novel among 32 novels in his championed career. He has been maybe unmatched in his ability to keep characters and writing authentic and fresh. That’s a tough bar for even him to keep vaulting.

“Light” brings in an especially evil serial killer among an eerie carnival of bad guys, a few of Burke’s priceless sort-of good guys such as private investigator-friend Clete Purcell’s daughter, a hired assassin (trying to reform).

Burke even throws in a hard-as-nails rodeo cowboy on loan from another series.

But the serial killer plot gets snarled up in plot distractions and the heat of the action takes a long time to ignite.

It seems that for a lot of this story, Robicheaux is almost inexplicably fishing or sitting on a porch while this demonic killer presses him and his daughter, Alafair. Robicheaux is less given to the semi-hallucinatory takes on reality that are among the character’s indelible quirks and create the haunt of his stories. He, like Burke himself, is older now and seems more given to his philosophical musing:

“Even in retrospect, I cannot say with any exactitude what occurred on the lake that fateful summer night in 2012. I can tell you what I believed happened. I have never bought into the notion time is linear, in the same way I feel straight lines are a superimposition on the natural world and contravene the impulse that drives it. All matter aspires to roundness and symmetry, in the same way that the seasons are cyclical and God in His way slays Himself with every leaf that flies.”

Once this story starts to roll, though, it tumbles furiously toward that classic Burke brush-off-the-debris shaking-with-fear nightmare of a conclusion.

Well, the singular Robicheaux is a little longer in the tooth now. So what? Sit back a spell. “Light of the World” is good stuff.

Reviewer Bo Petersen is a reporter for The Post and Courier.

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