In the pantheon of American crime writing giants, it might be argued that James Lee Burke reigns supreme. Elmore Leonard's position is, of course, secure, but wonderful though his books are, they don't have the ambition and sheer heft of Burke. And the man who was perhaps Burke’s nearest rival, James Ellroy, is much less consistent (even the author now admits that his last book, the infuriatingly written The Cold Six Thousand
, was a misfire). We've been avidly consuming Burke's vivid and sprawling pictures of American society (and its miscreants) at least as far back as Lay Down My Sword and Shield
in 1971, and -- intriguingly -- Burke's new book, Rain Gods
, travels back to that earlier volume and plucks out a character to be centre stage in the new book: he is the cousin of Burke's beloved protagonist Billy Bob Holland. Hackberry Holland is the sheriff of a small Texas town, and he is quite one of the most idiomatic (and fully rounded) characters that the author has created (some British readers may find his moniker irresistibly comic, but the slightest acquaintance with the book will soon get them past that).
Holland comes across the bodies of nine Thai women who have been cursorily interred in shallow graves near a church. These murdered prostitutes, Holland knows, are the tip of an iceberg, and represent the greatest professional challenge he has ever faced. And the detailed map of corruption and intimidation that he comes up against stretches from a criminal in New Orleans (for whom the most extreme violence is quotidian) to a troubled veteran of the Iraq war struggling with his own demons (as is Holland himself --- he is, after all, a James Lee Burke protagonist). But by far the most sinister of his opponents is an assassin who lives by the tenets of the Bible, and goes by the soubriquet The Preacher.
Admirers of Burke (and they are legion) tend to ignore reviews and simply buy each new book. First-time buyers, however, should note that this is the author on kinetic form, delivering all the elements that he is celebrated for with pungency and panache. There is even a bonus for those who are resistant to the slightly proselytising religious strain in Burke's work: his malevolent bible-quoting villain here firmly puts paid to the idea that Burke is subtly doing a little PR work for the Catholic Church. This is the great James Lee Burke on something like vintage form. --Barry Forshaw
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The richly drawn characters, the powerful sense of the Texan landscape and the unrelenting pace of the storytelling combine to create one of the most gripping and atmospheric novels I've read this year. (Simon Shaw DAILY MAIL
Burke deftly combines intricate, engaging plotlines and original, compelling characters with his powerfully poetic prose to create a blistering crime novel that also stands with the best of American contemporary fiction. (TANGLED WEB