At home on the bayou

A Stained White Radiance by James Lee Burke Arrow $72 IF you place enough mean-minded, corrupt, racist, grudge-holding, violent, ambitious and cruel people in the same narrowly-defined land mass - say, Louisiana - they're likely to rub each other the wrong way.

Generally, given the age we live in, they'll have some connections to the Mafia or the CIA or both. They will have run drugs or guns, or both. They'll have more family secrets than the average Baton Rouge mansion has closets to hide them in.

So it is in James Lee Burke's A Stained White Radiance, the fifth of Burke's novels featuring Dave Robicheaux, the tough-minded Cajun detective, who used to work in New Orleans, but has semi-retired to the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office.

Robicheaux, besides being a cagey detective who can plant evidence and intimidate suspects against whom he has little proof of wrongdoing, is a haunted man. He turned to booze after his first wife was murdered. He now praises the Higher Power, AlcoholicsAnonymous' euphemism for God, for rescuing him from the demon bottle and, even more, for giving him a second chance to wed the original girl of his dreams, Bootsie, after Wife One was snuffed out.

Lamentably, Bootsie suffers from lupus, a blood disease that threatens the happy, 45-packing Louisiana homestead. Then there's Alafair, the young girl Robicheaux rescued from a half-submerged plane in the bayou and adopted.

She, known as ''little guy'' to her adopted dad's ''big guy,'' provides the moral foundation for the novel; it's she who makes it possible for Robicheaux to say, ''Do anything else you want, but stay away from my family'', or something similar. The storyof A Stained White Radiance is unimportant. It's extremely well-plotted and well-paced. The bad guys are bad from beginning to end, and the good guys permit themselves enough shenanigans, bordering on illegal harassment, to demonstrate that something really ought to be done about - (fill in the blank with the crime you most detest).

And as for stereotypes of Southern types - the huckster tele-evangelist, the hitman, the local sheriff, the loyal black employee, the hard-nosed former cop now scraping along as a private dick, the cowardly mobster, the fascist politician, gosh, are theyall here? Yes.

Is this book a self-parody? I rather doubt it. From time to time, Detective Robicheaux takes himself altogether seriously.

Reading this is good fun for a lazy Saturday. If you're not quite up to date on mobster slang, Louisiana slang, bayou babble and Vietnam veteran allusions, you'll have some difficulties wading through Burke's language. But resistance is half the fun, isn't it? Oh, the plot line. A trio of Louisianians, two brothers and a sister, intrude on Robicheaux's solitude. Someone's trying to kill the eldest brother (ah ha! he flew for Air America in Laos and is probably tied in with Joey ''Meatballs'' Gouza in New Orleans).

The sister, Robicheaux's college lover, tries to help her brother by implicating Gouza in an attack against her (but she's injured herself by nailing her hand to the floor of the backyard gazebo).

Meanwhile, Robicheaux's best informant is the second brother Lyle, who served under Detective Dave in Vietnam and who is now the tele-evangelist Robicheaux can't quite believe. And yes, everyone is guilty of something, most especially the trio's father, long thought dead in a chemical plant explosion years ago.

Is all this related? Not really, but it all happens in Louisiana, and it all happens to Dave, who's thinking of retiring.

After all, he tells us: ''I let other people's problems, the seriousness, all the fury and mire and complexity, pull out of my grasp, in the same way that you finally tire of grief or guilt or a bone-grinding ongoing contention with the world. One morning, perhaps just before sunrise, you turn your eyes in a different direction and notice a blue heron rising from the reeds along the bayou's edge, a gator's walnut-ridged eyes moving silently through a milky skim of algae and floating twigs, a glowing radiance on the earth's rim that suddenly breaks through the black trunks of the cypress trees with such a white brilliance that you want to shield your eyes.'' Can't argue with that.