A review of James Lee Burke’s Light of the World
Ok, there are patterns that repeat themselves in the books of James Lee Burke, who carries a stock company of character actors, like film director, John Ford, who occupy, colour and drive his stories.
First, there’s Dave Robicheaux, the main protagonist in the twenty strong Robicheaux series. He’s a flawed but principled character whose life has taken its tumbles, some self imposed, some cruelly circumstantial.
Then there’s Clete Purcel, his one time partner in NOPD Homicide and his lifelong friend; another flawed character with a heart of gold who is, in many ways, Robicheaux’s untamed alter ego.
Other characters populate their lives and their adventures; Dave’s wives, who are invariably strong willed women; Alafair, his adopted daughter whom he rescued from a crashed aeroplane, Batist, his uneducated black, Cajun bait shop helper and, of course, Tripod, the three legged coon.
More recently, as the main characters have aged, new characters have emerged, most particularly, Clete’s long lost daughter, Gretchen Horowitz, a complex figure with a shady past as a mob assassin who aspires for redemption as a film maker but who can never escape her past.Clete also has a penchant for chasing lost causes in the romantic stakes.
Then there’s the cast of villains, many of whom, like, for example, Wyatt Dixon, the born again Rodeo clown with a murky past, whose intentions, though distorted by a warped aspect of reality, are essentially good.
But then there are the ultra villains and these are usually psychopaths whose actions and motives defy logic and appear to embody and exude the essence of evil.
Alongside them, are the ultra rich, immoral profiteers, who will stop at nothing to destroy the earth and its resources, for the simple cause of power, glory and wealth and damn the begrudgers.
Oh, and there’s also a learned, well intentioned, intellectual, battering against the odds, to save the world around him.
Light of World finds the boys on holidays in Montana with their respective daughters, guests of an Albert Hollister, author, rancher, nature lover and eco-warrior. They soon find themselves thrown into a war against a ghost, or, at least, someone everyone believes is dead, a psycho serial murderer who appears to have Alafair in his sights.
This man, one Asa Surrette, who adopts the character and name of an ancient Roman, pursues his targets relentlessly and with unremitting cruelty. Like all good thrillers, it’s a race against time and clues are revealed, reluctantly, along the way. Of course, Surrette’s ties with the local billionaire energy moghul and his family, are some of the clues revealed along the way.
It’s not all doom, gloom and bible thumping cleanse and repent, though. There’s a fair share of humour and none, perhaps more than the revelation in the final chapters that Surrette’s primary target from the beginning. But I’ll leave that to others to discover. I couldn’t help thinking it was Burke’s own ironic exhortation to his devoted literary followers, a kind of paraphrasing of Bob Dylan when he sang, ‘don’t follow leaders, watch your parking metres.