Back in 1971 I picked up a copy of a Popular Library paperback titled Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee Burke. I had no idea who Burke was, but the book was set in Texas, so I thought I'd give it a go. I was amazed at how good it was and how much I liked it. I thought Burke was going to be a huge success. I went out and found a copy of Half of Paradise in paperback and read that one. (It will come as no surprise to any of the regular visitors here that I still have both those books.) I was so impressed that I suggested to a friend who taught the literature of the southwest at The University of Texas at Austin that Burke would be a great addition to the reading list for his course.
And then Burke disappeared, at least as far as I was concerned, for a long time. I thought about him now and then and wondered what had happened to him, and one day a fellow English teacher at Alvin Community College came by and handed me a paperback of The Neon Rain. He knew I liked James Crumley, and he thought I'd like that one. "Hey," I said. "James Lee Burke. I wondered whatever happened to him." Naturally I liked The Neon Rain, and, sure enough, Burke did become a big success. It just didn't happen as soon as I thought it would.
Which brings us to Rain Gods, which happens to feature Hackberry Holland, the protagonist of Lay Down My Sword and Shield. Wow. Deja vu. Holland's a lot older now, the sheriff of a little south Texas county where some rally bad things happen and where some Katrina refugees are stirring up a whole bunch of trouble.
This is Burke's longest book yet, I think. There are a lot of characters, and everybody seems to be after everybody else for one reason or another, to capture or kill. Burke still writes beautifully about the landscape and the atmosphere, and yet, . . . I don't know. Deja vu all over again. I felt as if it was all too familiar, as if I'd read it all before, somehow. Maybe it's just me, as I hear the other reviewers are raving about how good this one is.