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2011, A Hackberry Holland novel

from Book List:
Bad guys in James Lee Burke’s fiction tend to be very bad, human incarnations of evil, manifestations of
something deep in our lizard brain, something that will not be civilized, that craves only chaos. In this
latest Hackberry Holland, starring the seventysomething reformed drunk and whoremonger, now sheriff in a small southwest Texas border town, the bad guys are still very bad, but they have become more
multidimensional, human impulses at war with the lizard core. Chief among the antagonists this time is
Preacher Jack Collins, Holland’s nemesis, presumed dead at the end of Rain Gods (2009) but now risen
from the desert, still toting the Thompson machine gun with which he attempts to exorcise a lifetime of
demons. But this is anything but a mano-a-mano conflict. Holland and his chief deputy, Pam Tibbs, are
tracking a disaffected Homeland Security scientist in possession of secrets that a wealth of bad
guys—Mexican drug dealers, Russian mobsters—would happily peddle to al-Qaeda. At the center of it all
is a mysterious Chinese woman, Anton Ling, who operates a kind of underground railroad for illegals but who is an object of fascination for all the principals, from Holland to Preacher Jack to a Mexican gang leader obsessed with finding a way to bless his dead children. As Burke steers the elaborately structured
narrative toward its violent conclusion, we are afforded looks inside the tortured psyches of his various
combatants, finding there the most unlikely of connections between the players. This is one of Burke’s biggest novels, in terms of narrative design, thematic richness, and character interplay, and he rises to the occasion superbly, a stand-up guy at the keyboard, as always.

HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is Burke’s thirtieth novel, and though he is best known for his Dave Robicheaux series, the broader canvas of this Hackberry Holland adventure makes a fittingly grand stage on which to play out such a landmark event in American publishing.

— Bill Ott

Hackberry Holland’s third appearance, and Burke’s 30th, brings back sociopathic killer Preacher Jack Collins (Rain Gods, 2009, etc.), but this time surrounds him with so many seriously bad guys that he can scarcely get the sheriff to take his phone calls.

Danny Boy Lorca, visionary and drunk, has a wild story to tell. He witnessed a coyote pursuing two fleeing men and shooting one of them to death. The discovery of DEA informant Hector Lopez’s corpse confirms the first part of Danny Boy’s story. What’s become of the surviving fugitive? It seems clear that the coyote was either Antonio Vargas, aka Krill, or his enthusiastic sidekick Negrito, and scarcely less clear that the man on the run is Noie Barnum, an enigmatic ex–federal employee whose knowledge of certain military secrets makes him the Holy Grail sought by the FBI’s Ethan Riser, self-anointed citizen soldier Temple Dowling and Russian porn dealer Josef Sholokoff, who plans to sell his to al-Qaeda so that their members can pump him dry. But why has he taken refuge with Preacher Jack, and which of his pursuers will end up with the Grail? Before the answers to these tangled mysteries finally surface, Hackberry will rescue one of his deputies, R.C. Bevins, from darkest Coahuila; continue to fend off romantic overtures from another, Pam Tibbs; and fight his way through dozens of the kinds of conversations of the sort that Burke does better than anyone else, in which two men of action (or women of action, like homesteader/mystic Anton Ling) lunge at each other with fighting words while talking past each other completely because they’re really fighting themselves.

The dialogue scenes, along with the action sequences, the South Texas landscape and the indelibly conflicted characters make you want to give Burke a medal; the tangled plot, which lurches from one great sequence to the next without going anywhere but the grave, is the price you pay for these deep pleasures.

[Feast Day of Fools]] further cements his status as one of America’s greatest contemporary novelists. Hackberry and his deputy, Pam Tibbs, to whom Hack acts as both romantic interest and concerned parent, are forced to unravel a mystery involving dead bodies in the desert, a missing American scientist, and the government agencies and criminal groups searching for him. As with any Burke novel, however, the story is secondary to the characters. From a Chinese woman helping illegal immigrants cross the Texas-Mexico border, to a dying government agent with torn allegiances, to criminals of various stripes, Burke weaves a tapestry of unique characters whose widely differing motivations enrich his tale. Also playing a large role is serial killer Preacher Jack Collins, who returns to bring fear and craziness into Hackberry’s life. Fittingly, a novel filled with violence concludes in a similar manner. VERDICT Though not as well known as Dave Robicheaux, Hackberry is a compelling character. This rich novel will satisfy Burke’s fans and should draw new ones who have not yet had the privilege of reading his works.
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