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Within the first few days of 2018, we are blessed with what is surely one of the best books to be published this year. I was certain that James Lee Burke had concluded his Dave Robicheaux series in 2013 with the 20th installment, LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The newly published ROBICHEAUX proves me wrong. It is said that a used key stays shiny, and all of Burke’s tools --- his characterizations, plots and brilliantly descriptive prose --- are on full display here, with Burke once again giving us some of the best of his always masterful writing.

There have been changes in Dave’s life in the interval between novels. ROBICHEAUX begins at least a few years after LIGHT OF THE WORLD, and finds Dave dealing with the sudden death of his wife Molly, two years previously, as the result of an automobile accident for which she was ultimately judged responsible. Dave is haunted by the potential culpability of the other driver and ends up confronting him. When the man is later found beaten to death, circumstances make Dave a person of interest in the murder. The worst of it is that Dave himself believes that he indeed might be culpable in the man’s death, but is honestly unable to be certain of his guilt or innocence. The matter is further complicated by his position with the New Iberia Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating the murder.

"The vitality of the book, and each and every one of its predecessors, is grand enough to leap off the page and into this world, where not everything --- very little, in fact --- is fully resolved."

That question plays out throughout the course of ROBICHEAUX as it intersects and intertwines with other plot lines. These include a dying old school New Orleans mobster who wants to be involved in a film project based on a novel written by a local author; a mentally unstable ex-convict who may have been responsible for a series of murders; and the campaign for the United States Senate of a gambling and real estate magnate with possible links to each of those men. In the midst of all of this, and more, Burke introduces what may be Dave’s most intriguing adversary to date (after a score of books published over the course of 30 years): a diminutive button man who moves with homicidal purpose through southern Louisiana with seeming impunity, with Dave --- and others close to him --- as a possible target.

Dave, as always, is helped and hindered in equal measure by Clete Purcel, one of the most complicated and attractive characters one is likely to find in modern fiction. Clete, as always, is guided (if that is the proper word) in his actions by equal parts free-fall impulse and deep-seated nobility. That is never more true than in ROBICHEAUX, where his actions near the conclusion of the book may ultimately play out in future installments of the series.

Or not. ROBICHEAUX, though complete in itself, leaves a couple of loose ends hanging. While intriguing and nagging, they do not necessarily beg for a resolution. The vitality of the book, and each and every one of its predecessors, is grand enough to leap off the page and into this world, where not everything --- very little, in fact --- is fully resolved. Burke could end the series right here, as he could have (and more neatly) with LIGHT OF THE WORLD. But this latest volume could be thought of as the first independent half of a much longer work. Either way, ROBICHEAUX stands among Burke’s best.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 4, 2018

by James Lee Burke

  • Publication Date: January 2, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1501176846
  • ISBN-13: 9781501176845