"Feast Day Of Fools" is vintage James Lee Burke. At 460 pages, it is a jumbo of a book and takes time to get to its cruising altitude, but once it does.....WOW.
"Feast Day" is set in the drug, arms and people smuggling borderlands of Southwest Texas, a physical and metaphorical landscape ideally suited to Burke's eschatological battles between good and evil. Sheriff Hackberry Holland (in his second appearance after being recalled from a 40 year hiatus in Rain Gods, published in 2009) and his team of deputies investigate the brutal murder of a DEA informant and the related disappearance of an escaped hostage who carries with him vital military secrets. They are not the only ones in the chase: the Feds, shadowy vigilantes with unspecified links to the government, a Mexican gang and a Russian led criminal group also show up. "Preacher Jack" Collins, the demonic killer who escaped justice in "Rain Gods," also inserts himself though it is debatable as to which side he is on.
Burke's characters are colorful and complex. In addition to the various well-sketched thugs, there is La Magdalena, a Chinese missionary with a CIA past, the Reverend Cody Daniels, a cowboy preacher out to expunge his own sins, and Danny Boy Lorca, a loser who witnessed the murder and decides to make amends. The good guys all have their demons and the villains (mostly) have flashes of honour.
Hack himself is a peculiar hero. He is almost 80 years old but manages physical feats and intimidates his foes as if he were in his prime. He is haunted by (among many things) his memories of the Korean War. One forms the impression that Burke would have preferred to make it the War Between the States but concluded that it would stretch credulity even further if his hero was aged 160. He is a combination of wise old man and avenging angel. He incorporates all the values of Burke's other series heroes: Dave Robicheaux and Billy Bob Holland (whom I think I remember to be a relative).
Burke's writing is sui generis. It goes well beyond the crime genre and comparisons with Faulkner, McCarthy and O'Connor are justified. His prose is poetic and Biblical, full of allusions and images; his evocations of landscapes and the memories and ghosts that inhabit them are haunting and lyrical; his characters converse in a mixture of old world courtesies and scatological insults that is unique. No one speaks like this in the real world, but it is totally believable in the universe that Burke creates.
Fans of James Lee Burke will count this book among his finest works. New readers should persevere through its relatively dense build-up. You will be glad that you did so and the entire oeuvre of this astonishing author awaits you.