Monday, September 16, 2013

LIGHT OF THE WORLD by James Lee Burke

Near the end of James Lee Burke's Light of the World, Clete Purcel asks his friend Dave Robicheaux: “You think we've done okay with our lives? You think the good outways the bad?”

Just barely. That's my opinion. And that may be the point of Burke's books. We live on the edge between sanity and insanity, the psychotic and the sane. Even the good people sometimes have to walk that line.

This story begins when someone almost kills Dave's daughter Alafair.

Robicheaux learns that psychotic serial killer Asa Surrette could well have escaped from a crashed prison van.

Alafair had interviewed Surrette in prison. What she finally wrote caused Surrette to fixate on her.

But that's not the whole story. Surrette came to this part of Montana for reasons of his own. Those reasons involve a rich man, his son, and the rich man's murdered granddaughter.

Those reasons also involve a psychotic bull fighter and Clete's daughter, a reformed cold-blooded killer.

At one point, Wyatt Dixon, the psychotic bullfighter, tells Clete's daughter Gretchen, “That smile of yours, it's the light of the world. You got the prettiest smile in the history of smiles.”

This is a typical Robicheaux book. It is violent, on the edge, filled with beautiful, uniquely-written descriptions.

Burke's aphorisms fill the story. I could have come up with at least thirty memorable quotes with which to end this review. And if I were to list all the book's literary references, I'd have several single-spaced typewritten pages.

I struggle with James Lee Burke. The books are so violent but so well written.

I have to confess, I haven't read them all. They are more brutal than the books I often read, and they are very long. (This book was over 560 pages long.)

Still, every once in a while, I am called to read another James Lee Burke. And I have never regretted it. 


“The ovens at Auschwitz were full of people who were on the right side.”

No one takes an accordion band to a deer hunt.

“You've heard about the Serenity Prayer, right? I use the short version: 'Fuck it.'”


At a certain age, you realize the greatest loss you can experience is a theft you perpetrate upon yourself—the waste of days given us. Is there any more piercing remorse than the realization that a person has thrown away the potential that resides in every sunrise?


It's my belief that the great heroes in our midst are the ones we never notice.


“The only lasting lesson I've learned in life is that nothing counts except family and friends. When you get to the end of the road, money, success, fame, power, all of the things we kill each other for, fade into insignificance. The joke is, it's usually too late to make use of that knowledge.” 
                 Dave Robicheaux to his daughter Alifair.

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