Friday, June 15, 2012

Feast Day Of Fools, James Lee Burke

Feast Day Of Fools (Hackberry Holland, #3)Feast Day Of Fools by James Lee Burke
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The old gent manning the toll booth at Jasper National Park almost always had his nose buried in a paperback. One morning I asked him what he was reading. “Oh,” he said, grinning; “Louis L'Amour. Nobody writes 'em like he does!”

Midway through Feast Day Of Fools, I made a rough tabulation of how long I'd been reading James Lee Burke, and how many of his novels I'd read. My first Dave Robicheaux novel was A Morning For Flamingos, back in 1991. It's been 21 years now, and at least as many books. It's fair to say Burke has been my Louis L'Amour.

Mind you, there was a stretch of years when Louis L'Amour was my Louis L'Amour. It began sometime near my 13th birthday and concluded near my 20th, when I finally had to admit that L'Amour's authorial bag of tricks had exhausted its capacity to surprise and delight. Burke's craft is of a somewhat similar bent, but to list the strategies that have exhausted themselves with me would be disingenuous. They worked, and they worked on me — for two decades. If, to choose just one example, Gothic descriptions of landscape and weather no longer have cache with me, well ... too bad for me. They used to, and for many people they still do.

So here is what still appeals to me in Burke's writing. I love his morally conflicted characters. I love how they recognize they are at war with people who have none of their own qualms, and I love how that recognition adds to their distress. I appreciate how the bad guys are believably bad. They enjoy inflicting harm on innocents, and not in a Snidely Whiplash way, but in that odious manner you read about in the daily papers. They aren't formidable strategists so much as reptilian reactionaries, who set off a bad sequence of events, then stay one step ahead of justice or retribution by waging a constant war of fear and intimidation. How do you wage war back, without becoming like them? Protagonists who are no longer naive innocents — again, Burke's stock-and-trade hero — are deeply sympathetic people.

And of course I love Burke's social/political commentary, which is scathing and acute.

As for the Hack Holland novels, I've remarked before that the aspect I most appreciate is their third-person-limited narration. With this latest addition to the library, Burke appears to be building a recurring cast of villains and Wild Men (violent free agents who inject chaos into the plans of both the hero and the villain, usually to the hero's benefit), which has me curious about the next instalment — possibly even curious enough to pick it up and read it.

But as a long-time reader I am at the point where I have to acknowledge this book gave me two-and-a-half stars worth of emotional satisfaction, even if it employed a four-and-a-half star execution that would better work its magic on a relative newcomer to Burke.

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