The themes in James Lee Burke's lyrical, allegorical crime novels rarely change, but each new book delves more deeply into them, revealing an author who increasingly is troubled about human nature and the American character but unwilling to abandon hope for redemption.
"Light of the World" begins with Burke's most popular protagonists, Sheriff's Detective Dave Robicheaux of New Iberia, La., and his menacing sidekick, Clete Purcel, vacationing in Montana with their grown daughters, Alafair and Gretchen. When someone tries to kill Alafair with an arrow, it's clear that trouble followed them there.
In this novel, as in all of Burke's work, the past is ever present, haunting both his characters and the soul of the nation. The dead are always with us, he says apparently meaning it literally. In "Light of the World," the specters of Nez Perce Indians slaughtered by the U.S. cavalry haunt the Montana ridges.
Dave and Clete's nemesis is a homicidal maniac named Asa Surrette, who seeks revenge for a series of articles Alafair once wrote about him. But the killer is a pawn in the hands of powerful men whose greed knows no bounds.
As always, the law is corrupted and outgunned, and as the bodies pile up, Dave, Clete and their daughters recognize that if they want justice, they will have to get it for themselves. The result is perhaps Burke's boldest and most complex novel to date, a superb crime story and a literary masterpiece from an author who has been named a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master.