Orion, £18.99, 463pp. £17.09 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Feast Day of Fools, By James Lee Burke

Graham Greene's religious faith was often fragile. When in one of his periodic moments of doubt he suggested to Evelyn Waugh that he was considering resigning from the Catholic novelist coterie to which the two belonged, Waugh was outraged and insisted Greene carry on writing novels with a religious basis, however uncertain his belief had become.

While it is now generally considered that Greene's Catholicism is no disincentive for agnostic or atheist readers, there are those who have problems with the religious underpinnings of one of the great American crime novelists, James Lee Burke. In the novels featuring his troubled private investigator Dave Robicheaux, there is an element that gives Burke naysayers ammunition. The detective's ex-nun partner provides (simultaneously) raunchy sex and a strong sense of the spiritual - a phoney attempt (it's claimed) to have the best of all possible worlds from a sensualist/believer such as Burke, or Greene.

Faith is at the heart of Burke's new novel, but this time there is no attempt at proselytising. Religion here, largely speaking, is of the gun-toting, un-nuanced kind that has hijacked Republican politics in the US.

As with another American writer who combines extreme violence with poetic lyricism, Cormac McCarthy, Burke's stamping ground here is deep South West Texas, and the locales of Feast Day of Fools fairly leap off the page in pungency and bitter vigour. We are once again in the company of Sherriff Hackberry Holland, a veteran of the Korean War, dispensing his precarious line of law enforcement near the border with Mexico.

As in earlier Holland books (notably Rain Gods), his universe is surrealistic and minatory. We are given another monstrous villain in the psychotic preacher Jack Collins, along with the equally terrifying mercenary, Krill. And Burke is even audacious enough to up the ante with another psychopath, the illiterate Negrito, along with the psychologically troubled Reverend Cody Daniels (who enforces the power of the Scriptures with the barrel of a gun). Holland struggles to deal with all these antisocial characters, along with gunrunners, drug smugglers and an enigmatic Chinese woman, "La Magdalena", engaged in smuggling Mexicans into the US.

Even more than in previous James Lee Burke novels, this is a heavily loaded, overwrought narrative, and it's a measure of the author's skill that he always succeeds in persuading us of the reality of this crazed world. His efforts are couched here in the customary poetic prose (aromatic, but never purple) and - Burke detractors should note - there is no attempt to freight in propaganda for the benefits of God's grace. Religion here, as in most of the best thrillers, is a dangerously destabilising force rather than a source of salvation.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all