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 generally considered 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 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.