Book Review: Light Of The World by James Lee Burke

25 Oct



Light of the World by James Lee Burke

560 pages

Simon & Schuster

July 23, 2013

ISBN-10: 1476710767

ISBN-13: 978-1476710761

“…the characters rise to haunt you long after you read the final page.”

Full disclosure here: I’m a fanatic James Lee Burke fan so am biased toward anything he writes. I’ve followed his tales of Louisiana bayou homicide detective Dave Robicheaux from The Neon Rain to the latest and 20th installment in the series Light Of The World. Each book is a lesson in literary crime writing but LOTW is one of the best.


The theme of this story is evil. Pure unadulterated evil. Does it exist as a tangible object? A living, breathing entity? Is it buried deeply in each of us? Does it dwell in the hearts of some more than others? Light Of The World is a story of revenge, violence, corruption, and ultimately how one copes with the presence of raw evil in human form.

Or as Dave says:

I was never good at solving mysteries. I don’t mean the kind cops solve or the ones you read about in novels or watch on television or on a movie screen. I’m not talking about the mystery of Creation, either, or the unseen presences that reside perhaps just the other side of the physical world. I’m talking about evil, without capitalization but evil all the same, the kind whose origins sociologists and psychiatrists have trouble explaining.

Thus begins Light Of The World.

Dave, along with wife Molly and lawyer/novelist daughter Alafair, as well as former partner Clete Purcel, travel to the wilds near Missoula, Montana for a little R and R. All is well until an arrow flies from nowhere and nearly kills Alafair while she is on a mountain jog. To Dave, the most likely suspect is Wyatt Dixon, an ex rodeo champion and felon, who reprises from Bitterroot (2001) but other suspects quickly jump up on Dave’s radar. One, the sexual sadist and convicted serial killer Asa Surrette, who apparently died in an explosive prison transport van crash. Or did he? Could he have survived? Somehow escaped from the mangled, charred vehicle? Alafair has no doubts. She has seen his face, in town, following her. Dave isn’t convinced. Could Surrette not only be alive but be hell-bent on exacting revenge against Alafair, for whom he holds a deep-seated hatred after she wrote a series of articles blaming him for other crimes? Can Dave protect her from such a relentless force?

Perhaps the most interesting character in the story is Gretchen Horowitz, Clete’s estranged daughter, introduced in Creole Belle (2012). A former contract killer for mob types, she is now reinventing herself as a documentary film maker. A fascinating and deep character with a history, she enters the fray in a no-brakes, in-your-face fashion. Smart, tough, and relentless, she employs her own brand of violence to protect herself, and Alafair.

This story is written in James Lee Burke’s usual style. Richly poetic writing mixed with down and dirty storytelling. The setting comes alive, the story drags you along at a breathless pace, and the characters rise to haunt you long after you read the final page. Classic JLB.

Original review for the NYJournal of Books:



Posted by on October 25, 2013 in Book Review, Writing


11 responses to “Book Review: Light Of The World by James Lee Burke

  1. Jodie Renner

    October 25, 2013 at 7:56 am

    Excellent review, Doug! I’m definitely intrigued and am going to buy this book today! I haven’t read James Lee Burke, but coincidentally was recently told by two people over at The Kill Zone, under one of my craft-of-writing articles there, that I should read him for his rich prose.

    Thanks for sharing!


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      October 25, 2013 at 8:04 am

      JLB is the greatest living American writer. Also try BLACK CHERRY BLUES (the opening paragraph in breathtaking) and PURPLE CANE ROAD—though all his books are excellent.


      • Jodie Renner

        October 25, 2013 at 8:14 am

        Great! Thanks for the additional recommendations, Doug! And that’s high praise! An author I work with wondered why I’ve never read Burke, so time to rectify the situation!


  2. Linda Hebert Todd

    October 25, 2013 at 8:33 am

    I have all of his Robicheaux books in my personal library, but have read all the others as well. I live about 45 minutes down the road from New Iberia. I read the first one-NEON RAIN- and was hooked. My favorites are IN THE ELECTRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD and JOLIE BLON’S BOUNCE. Both have a hint of the supernatural. I finished reading LIGHT OF THE WORLD last week and was totally depressed, wishing I could write like that. You’re in for a treat, Jodie.l


    • Jodie Renner

      October 25, 2013 at 8:37 am

      Great to hear, Linda! But I think I’ll be enthralled rather than depressed! LOL 😉


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      October 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

      I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Jim several years ago at the Edgars. I told him I had a love-hate relationship with him. I told him that when I read his books I was always grabbed by the story and the writing, then I would become depressed because I would never be able to write that way. But then a week or so later I say–Yeah, but……

      He laughed saying he loved to hear that. A very kind and gracious gentleman and a wonderful writer.


      • Jodie Renner

        October 25, 2013 at 8:45 am

        How fortunate that you were able to have that conversation with someone whose books you really admire, Doug! And great to hear that not only is he a highly talented writer, he’s also a nice guy!


  3. Jeffrey J. Mariotte

    October 26, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    We’ve been friends with Jim for a couple of decades now. He’s a wonderful, warm, generous man, and like Doug says, probably the best living American novelist. We were thrilled to see Mysterious Galaxy get a plug late in LotW!


  4. Monica T. Rodriguez

    October 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Wonderful review! You’ve hit every point too. I’m also an avid fan of JLB and I have to agree this is one of his best. Ever since I read Jolie Blon’s Bounce, I’ve been hooked, captivated by his writing and the characters he’s created, especially Dave and Clete.

    I read this over the summer, but was too busy with real life to give it the review it deserved. Glad to see it get some good words here. And I’m thrilled for you that you got to meet the man. Must have been a treat.


  5. tom combs

    October 27, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Doug –
    I have been a flaming Burke-ophile for decades. There is no one better. When reading him I, at times, stop in wonder. His prose, his ability to create characters that define ‘vivid’ and the emotional engagement he engenders–I can relate to the writer’s envy you describe.
    A great review! I hope he writes forever.


  6. georgia ruth

    October 27, 2013 at 11:09 am

    I just read Bitterroot last week and was disappointed Wyatt was alive at the end. Now I know why, and I should have guessed. However, I never would have thought Dave would come up from the bayou to tangle with him. Of course, I’ll have to follow the story.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: