Saturday, October 22, 2011
Book Review: "Feast Day of Fools" by James Lee Burke
At age 75, James Lee Burke may be one of our greatest living crime writers, if not simply one of the best writers around. He's won two Edgar Awards, been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and created some fantastically vivid characters in his more than 30 books. If you haven't read anything he has written, pick up one of his books. You won't be sorry.
Burke usually writes a novel a year, and lately switches between his longtime protagonist, Louisiana police detective Dave Robichaux, and Texas sheriff Hackberry Holland. Feast Day of Fools follows Hack Holland as he tries to keep the peace in his Southwest Texas border town, and resists the temptation to begin a relationship with his much-younger deputy sheriff, Pam Tibbs. And then one day, the erstwhile alcoholic ex-boxer Danny Boy Lorca reports that he witnessed a man being tortured and killed in the desert. Holland's investigation leads him to the home of Anton Ling, a charismatic Asian woman known for helping illegal aliens cross over the Mexican border, whose past is more sinister than she is willing to let on. As Hack struggles with his attraction to both Anton and Pam, he finds himself drawn into an ever-more sinister web, complete with Russian gangsters, the son of a former nemesis, an unstable preacher, and the return of serial killer Jack Collins, presumed dead at the end of the last book to feature Hack, Rain Gods. Along the way, there's loads of violence, soul searching, intrigue, and Burke's fantastic writing.
One of the things I love about Burke's writing is his evocative imagery, and it is once again in full force. His heroes are truly flawed characters, wanting to do the right thing but not always approaching it the right way, committed to truth and justice, but cutting corners where necessary. There were a lot of characters to follow in this book, and many were fully developed and more complex than you'd expect them to be. My only criticism of the book is that it was almost too fullI could have done with one less villain or plot thread to follow, although Burke resolved the story quite well. Feast Day of Fools had almost an elegiac feel to it, and I couldn't help wondering if Burke sees a little bit of himself in the aging Sheriff Holland. All in all, this is a hefty, action-packed and beautifully written book, earning its place along James Lee Burke's other must-reads.