Sunday, July 10, 2016

Book Review: "The Jealous Kind" by James Lee Burke

Through the years I've had the opportunity to read books by so many incredibly talented authors. I have "discovered" new authors I've never heard of and experienced the latest works of authors whose every book I've read. Of course, along the way, I've developed some favorites, but I'll tell you this: when he's at the top of his form, there is no one who writes like James Lee Burke. No one.

While Burke is best known for a few series of books, particularly those featuring Louisiana police detective Dave Robichaux and his erstwhile troublemaker friend, Clete Purcell, The Jealous Kind is a stand-alone novel, although tangentially related to Hackberry Holland, a character in another one of Burke's series.

It's 1952 in Houston, Texas. The world is on the cusp of the Korean War; the economic disparities between the haves and have-nots couldn't be more clear; and racial relations are continuing to deteriorate. Aaron Broussard is a high school junior who has always done a good job fading into the crowd, although his familial history of mental illness and alcoholism leaves him prone to "spells," fugue-like states when he doesn't quite know what he's doing. One night while at a drive-in in Galveston, Aaron sees the beautiful, feisty, and intelligent Valerie Epstein, and he is instantly smitten. When he sees Valerie fighting with her boyfriend, Grady Harrelson, a petulant rich kid with a penchant for violence, Aaron suddenly feels emboldened enough to step into the middle of the fight and protect Valerie.

This one act sets a chain of events in motion, events which mire Aaron, his best friend Saber, Valerie, Aaron's family, and others in a spiraling web of violence, degradation, and betrayal. There are run-ins with organized crime, street gangs, and one of the richest families in Texas with nefarious connections. There are also undertones of corruption, Communism, and the brainwashing and abuse of young men. All of this is territory that James Lee Burke can mine to exceptional results.

As Aaron tries to protect his family and further his relationship with Valerie, he is determined to right whatever wrongs he caused, as well as find out exactly who is behind the threats and the violence being perpetuated. He is a young man with a strong sense of honor yet the immense need to say whatever is on his mind, no matter whom it might hurt, and more often than not he winds up blundering into a situation which puts him and those he cares about at risk.

While this is a stand-alone novel, the characters of Aaron and Saber reminded me a great deal of Dave Robichaux and Clete Purcell. Dave, although tremendously flawed and enormously troubled, has a very strong sense of right and wrong (which is sometimes misplaced), but it doesn't stop him from angering the wrong people, who wish to do him harm. And Clete, like Saber, is a character who cannot leave well-enough alone and is his own worst enemy, but his pride and his loyalty to his friend often get him into trouble.

Beyond the violence and tension in this book, which Burke ratchets up periodically, this is a book about the power of first love, and how far we'd go to protect it. It's also about overcoming your family's ghosts and scandals, but doing right by those who raised you. And it's also a story about the depths some will sink to in the name of greed, revenge, pride, and jealousy.

There's so much I liked about this book, but as always, I'm transfixed by the sheer power of Burke's words and his vivid imagery, which conjures up the place and time of this book (and many of his others) so perfectly. If you've never read his work before, this isn't a bad one to start with, but I'd encourage you to pick up a Dave Robichaux novel or two as well, to see the master at work.

NetGalley and Simon & Schuster provided me an advance copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. Thanks for making this available!

2 comments:

  1. Thanks very much for your fine review. I appreciate your words very much. You write good prose yourself, noble mon.

    All the best,

    James Lee Burke

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  2. Wow! I am overwhelmed. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my review! And thanks for all of your books.

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