James Lee Burke, Feast Day of Fools

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When it comes to literate and violent motifs in a major detective series James Lee Burke has few peers. For more than two decades the Dave Robicheaux detective series has blossomed and each of the recent novels have been lauded by the critics. Burke is a major force in American crime. This is Jim Burke’s second Hackberry Holland novel set in Texas. It contains an appreciation by colleague and professor in Literature James W Hall, who considers the narrator Hackberry Holland and the transition from the bayou to the open-spaces of the borderland.

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Following early attempts at literary fiction and a thriller issued by a university press James Lee Burke found a niche with the Dave Robicheaux detective novel Neon Rain (1987). It was this breakthrough that quickly earned him an Edgar for best mystery with Black Cherry Blues, his third novel in the series. This book, like the others in the series is about a deep feeling for the South, human dignity and redemption. What Burke brings to the genre is an emotional engagement; listen to this: “. . . I had found the edge. The place where you unstrap all your fastenings to the earth, to what you are what you have been, where you flame out on the edge of the spheres, and the sun and moon become eclipsed and the world below is as dead and remote and without interest as if it were glazed with ice. ”  This is the second Hackberry Holland novel following the highly acclaimed Rain Gods.

Plotline from the author website: Sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols a small Southwest Texas border town with a deep and abiding respect for the citizens in his care. Still mourning the loss of his cherished wife, and locked in a perilous almost-romance with his Deputy Pam Tibbs, a woman many decades his junior, Hackberry feeds off of the deeds of evil men to keep his own demons at bay.
When alcoholic ex-boxer Danny Boy Lorca witnesses a man tortured to death in the desert and reports it, Hack’s investigation to the home of Anton Ling, a regal, mysterious Chinese woman whom the locals refer to as La Magdalena and who is known for sheltering illegals. Ling denies having seen the victims or perpetrators, but there is something in her steely demeanor and aristocratic beauty that compels Hackberry to return to her home again and again as the investigation unfolds. Could it be that the Sheriff is so taken in by this creature who reminds him of his deceased wife, that he would ignore the possibility that she is just as dangerous as the men she harbors?
The danger in the desert increases tenfold with the return of serial murderer Preacher Jack Collins, (whom The New York Times called “one of Burke’s most inspired villains”). Presumed dead at the close of Rain Gods, Preacher Jack has re-emerged with a calm, single-minded zeal for killing which is more terrifying than the muzzle flash of his signature machine gun. But this time he and Sheriff Holland share a common enemy.
Praised by Joyce Carol Oates for “the luminosity of his writerly voice” James Lee Burke returns with his most allegorical novel to date, illuminating vital issues of our time—immigration, energy, religious freedom—with the rich atmosphere and devastatingly flawed, authentic characters that readers have come to celebrate during the five decades of his brilliant career.

James Lee Burke has become the foremost American crime writer of his time. Although an entertainer Burke’s Robicheaux series (now extending to eighteen dense novels) marks out an outstanding achievement in creating a much followed flawed character with real depth and in extending the crime genre into areas of wider social concern. Recent novels such as The Tin Roof Blowdown and Swan Peak received superb notices and it is no surprise that Feast Day of Fools (2011) further cemented Burke’s place as one of America’s foremost novelists of the present. The Scorpion Press edition comprised 75 numbered and signed copies and a further and 16 lettered for presentation purposes. It was enhanced by the presence of James W Hall, who wrote the appreciation; he considers the narrator Hackberry Holland and the transition from the bayou to the open-spaces of the borderland. The book on offer is the signed & numbered.

4.50 out of 5

2 reviews for James Lee Burke, Feast Day of Fools

  1. 5 out of 5

    Rating by Barry Forshaw, The Independent on May 30, 2012 :

    Barry Forshaw, The Independent.
    “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”.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rating by Library Journal on May 30, 2012 :

    [Feast Day of Fools]] further cements his status as one of America’s greatest contemporary novelists. Hackberry and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, to whom Hack acts as both romantic interest and concerned parent, are forced to unravel a mystery involving dead bodies in the desert, a missing American scientist, and the government agencies and criminal groups searching for him. As with any Burke novel, however, the story is secondary to the characters. From a Chinese woman helping illegal immigrants cross the Texas-Mexico border, to a dying government agent with torn allegiances, to criminals of various stripes, Burke weaves a tapestry of unique characters whose widely differing motivations enrich his tale. Also playing a large role is serial killer Preacher Jack Collins, who returns to bring fear and craziness into Hackberry’s life. Fittingly, a novel filled with violence concludes in a similar manner. VERDICT Though not as well known as Dave Robicheaux, Hackberry is a compelling character. This rich novel will satisfy Burke’s fans and should draw new ones who have not yet had the privilege of reading his works.

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