Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rain Gods -- James Lee Burke

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.


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi Bill,

Thanks for letting us know about this. I think I might like to read about Hackberry Holland.

I certainly love that name.


MP said...

I'm a big fan of Burke's novels, having read all his books since "The Neon Rain" and a few of the earlier ones, including "Lay Down My Sword and Shield". The last few Robicheau books have been particularly good. But I found this one way overpopulated and undermotivated. The Preacher is a terrific character, though.

Anonymous said...

I keep reading it as Huckleberry Hound, but then I'm old.

Anyway, ever since my first Burke I've had to admit he's just not for me.


Michael E. Stamm said...

I started reading Burke when a bookstore-employee friend pointed out a paperback of _The Neon Rain_; it was so good I went out and bought the hardcover, hunted down earlier ones like LDMSAS, and bought his new ones in hardcover as they came out for the next 15 years or so. But I stopped a half-dozen books back or so, though I still read them. Burke writes well and he writes beautifully, but most of the stories all seem to blur together. An unthinkably evil villain sets the story rolling, the increasingly complicated and melodramatic past stretches its bony talons into the present, and mayhem ensues; he's found a formula that works, but he hasn't pushed his personal envelope in many years.

Kent Morgan said...

I read those early Burke books and even have a first edition of Lay Down My Sword and Shield. Then in 1986 I was wandering around a small bookstore in Madeira Beach FL when the owner asked me if I was looking for anything in particular. I gave her my usual answer - something I don't know about. Off she went and came back with a copy of Burke's newset novel, The Lost Get-Back Boogie. She was very surprised that I heard about Burke, let alone read him. I later came across a copy of his short story collection,The Convict. Since then I've read all the Dave Robicheaux series and his other novels, but like Michael I no longer buy them in hardcover as soon as they are published. I'm looking forward to Rain Gods.