Set in contemporary Texas, FEAST DAY OF FOOLS by James Lee Burke is a very modern novel that is nevertheless obsessed with the past. The novel is the third in a series of books to centre on Hackberry Holland, county sheriff of a Texas territory that shares a border with Mexico; the first in the series, LAY DOWN MY SWORD AND SHIELD, was published in 1971, while the second, RAIN GODS, was published in 2009.This review first appeared in the Sunday Independent.
Here Holland finds himself faced by an old adversary, a religiously-inspired killer called Preacher Jack. He also struggles to cope with a narco-gang spilling over the border from Mexico, led by the ruthless Krill; and a number of competing groups, some of whom are legal, others criminal, who are in pursuit of a missing man called Noie Barnum, an engineer with information on the Predator drone, and who is considered a valuable asset to be captured and sold to Al Qaeda.
Written in a style that could on occasion be mistaken for that of Cormac McCarthy, Burke’s prose is here heavily influenced by Biblical references, as the aging Holland meditates on this mortality and tries to come to terms with his failings as a man. Holland is depicted as something of a bridge between the past and the future - his grandfather, for example, was an Old West sheriff - and Burke is at pains to set Hackberry Holland very firmly in the landscape of south Texas, frequently writing eloquently descriptive passages about the deserts and mountains, its storms, sunsets and dawns.
Despite the contemporary references, however, and Burke’s explicit referencing of the consequences of 9/11, FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is no less than a good old-fashioned Western masquerading as a crime thriller, fuelled by the pioneer spirit and the attempt to impose order on the anarchy of the lawless Old West. The result is a hugely entertaining and thought-proving novel.
“Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Prose both scabrous and poetic.” – Publishers Weekly. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “A sheer pleasure.” – Tana French. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville. “The effortless cool of Elmore Leonard at his peak.” – Ray Banks. “A fine writer at the top of his game.” – Lee Child.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
The James Gang
PERFECT PEOPLE by Peter James and DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY by PD James. I’ve mentioned both of those titles here recently, though, so here’s the third of the reviews, being FEAST DAY OF FOOLS by James Lee Burke. To wit: