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
With a plot full of twists and turns, this is another exciting crime thriller from Burke. Right now, there's no one better in the game when it comes to style: the heat of Texas practically burns off the page, leaving you feeling as if you're right in the middle of the action. (WATERSTONES BOOKS QUARTERLY
No one matches Burke for unveiling the seedier side of the American Dream. (OBSERVER
`an absorbing novel of depth and intelligence far superior to all but a few of his fellow crime writers - Burke is the most lyrical and poetic of US crime authors, his central characters the most three-dimensional, his atmosphere the most moody.' (Marcel Berlins THE TIMES
`One of the things that makes James Lee Burke both one of the best of thriller writers, and something more as well, is that he has always been fascinated by grace. Rain Gods [is] one of Burke's most powerful books for some time.' (THE INDEPENDENT
Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men won a lot of praise as a kind of modern western but for my money he's no match for James Lee Burke. ... Burke's a terrific writer, who specialises in poking a light into America's dark places and chronicling the country's descent into confusion and immorality. (THE SUN