79 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2011
At the age of 75 James Lee Burke is showing no signs of slowing down. In this, his 30th novel we find a stark landscape peopled by the morally insane. Sheriff Hackberry Holland returns to his jurisdiction in one of the most savage areas on the planet, the Texas border with Mexico. Readers of "Rain Gods" (2009) will immediately recognize the terrain and Hack Holland's haunted eyes.
Hack is shadowed by ghosts. There are his memories of being tortured as a POW in North Korea. There are his guilty recollections of blackouts and drunken sex sprees in Mexico when he was a younger man. And there is the shadow of his dead wife. She died from ovarian cancer a dozen years ago.
Of course the book opens with a gruesome murder. Soon we are delighted to realize that JLB's most evil villain ever, Preacher Jack Collins, survived after "Rain Gods." Collins does his killing with a Thompson sub machine gun. He's a religious fanatic who has twisted the words of the Bible for his own morally insane purposes.
Then there's the fugitive, a man who is hiding out. The Feds are after him. Criminal cartels want to sell him to the highest bidder. Terrorists will kill to learn his military secrets. The Feds want to shoot him on sight. Hack and his deputy Pam Tibbs are in a race to find him first. Meanwhile the morally insane wreak their terrible vengeance.
This is Burke's best book. He has opened the channel so wide. The words flow. An utter delight to read!
41 of 45 people found the following review helpful
The prolific James Lee Burke draws on the wisdom of his years to explore the nature of good and evil, an intricate skirmish played out against nature's vast canvas in Texas and Mexico, an unfolding drama of corrupt men and their mercenaries scrambling for control of one errant trophy: a man with intimate knowledge of Predator drones that is of inestimable value to whomever controls him. But in the wayward wilderness of a land steeped in history and the legends of ancestors, ghosts rise up to witness a new breed of killers, stone-faced men who torture and kill with impunity, a who's who of criminals, from a Russian former employee of the CIA to a narcissistic murderer long believed dead, as Sheriff Hackberry Holland, closing in on eighty decades, attempts to keep his county safe from the monsters that have brought personal agendas to their own killing fields. Tramping through a shifting terrain of immigrants and those who prey on them, the novel is a crucible of hate and rage where foolish men think demons can be exorcised by the exertion of power.
The characters are as rich and varied as the wind and sun-drenched desert landscape: Sheriff Holland, seared by age but sparked with unanticipated passion; Holland's tough deputy, Pam Tibbs, larger-than-life and just as stubborn in her loyalties; Anton Ling, known by the weary immigrant travelers as La Magdalena, with a past reaching back to Cambodia and a chronic need for redemption; Reverend Cody Daniels, minister of the fundamentalist Cowboy Chapel; Temple Dowling, a senator's son as corrupt in his way as his father; the drunken, but sympathetic Indian who grovels in fright witnessing a brutal murder but grows bold in the face of death; and the righteous, Bible-quoting Jack Collins, returned to haunt Holland, a nemesis with a long shadow.
Spooling out wisdom with the particulars of his protagonists, Burke writes of men both tortured and damned, purely evil and defeated by moral failures that haunt their dreams, made small and insignificant in a landscape that dwarfs humanity, the transience of life flickering on a horizon drenched in the bloody wars of generations, rage eradicated by the winnowing of time. Filled with the images of war, Biblical references and a profound respect for a country that absorbs the blows of men's petty pretensions, Burke grapples with the issues that are always at the heart of his protagonists' stories, good, if flawed men fighting for dignity at the end of a life, accepting blame for past deeds, meeting fate with honor, not fear. Burke surely feels the scourge of his own words, his protagonists, like Holland, fighting the battles, great and insignificant that make a man's life memorable, his mark indelible, if fleeting. Luan Gaines/2011.
79 of 94 people found the following review helpful
on October 9, 2011
I was not the only reviewer to observe that the first Hackberry Holland novel, Rain Gods, felt like a designed rebuttal to No Country for Old Men. I liked that about the book, that it was as dark and ugly as McCarthy's novel but without the hopelessness and despair that McCarthy traffics in like intellectual heroin.
Unfortunately, that element of the series went seriously off the rails in Feast Day of Fools. We got it the first time, Mr. Burke: McCarthy is a flatulent, posturing windbag. But frankly, the wind in this novel is pretty noisome too. As in McCarthyland, the almost unimaginably horrific is commonplace here, and not a moment goes by, not an inch of ground is visible that ordinary humans would recognize as part of their lives. And here too, everybody, down to the most brain-damaged thug, loves to discuss the finer points of theology, ethics, and aesthetics and, in such discussions, waxes monotonously eloquent. I mean, we have a character without education, grace, or wit (his favorite expression involves asserting that he did something to your mother's body that contains not one but two concepts I can't discuss in an Amazon review) saying to his boss (yes, I paraphrase): "Why do you treat someone who has nothing but admiration for you with such disrespect? Do you not see how this reflects badly on your own character?" I mean, we know McCarthy is not kidding. But is Burke? I don't think so.
In a word, Feast Day of Fools is pretentious, theatrical and sentimental in that worst sense -- filled with the artifice of feeling. One character who talks like Hackberry Holland is charming. An entire cast, not so much. Reality here is whatever Burke says it is. We are supposed to believe that an 81-year-old man is fending off the ardor of his 20 or 30-something deputy (and that for one mad night of passion, they succumb). I'm sorry: I'm 67, and I'm ok with the notion that a man in his 60's could be underestimated in a fight, but Hack Holland is only 81 because Burke says so, and even Burke doesn't believe it. He seems to have forgotten that in our own eyes, we are always 30 and saddened as others get older. It won't wash, and glorious prose just gilt-edges the mooncalf.
The landscape descriptions are vivid and beautiful if, as if often the case with Burke, rather repetitious. But ultimately, that's all there is here. That, the rattling horrorshow, and the tedious monotony of introspection. I like Hack Holland. But I don't believe in Pam Tibbs, or La Magdalena, or Krill, or the Cowboy Minister, or the CW star or the sadistic orangutan or, ultimately, any of the eccentrics that populate this book. I don't know why Burke thinks we would want to see any more of The Preacher, who was an engaging creation in Rain Gods and here is nothing but one of the confusing array of appalling sociopaths. If there is a third HH novel, and The Preacher is a part of it, I'll give it a pass.
Make no mistake: Burke is a wolf among coyotes and dogs. His bad is better than most writers' best. But his bad is still bad.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2011
I've been a fan of James Lee Burke since the early 1990's. I can't remember which book I bought first, but it was in some back-alley bookshop in Queensland, Australia. Mr Burke was almost completely unknown in this part of the world and I had to wait until I visited the UCLA bookshop in 1996 before I could buy "In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead" and "Heaven's Prisoners". Over time, as Mr Burke's popularity waxed more books appeared in Australia. I've read most of them. At least once. When Google maps appeared, I was able to examine New Iberia and find out about some of the places I had read about. Just recently I came across a recipe for gumbo, which I have made numerous times since. Mr Burke's writing has created a powerful desire to visit a part of the United States whose culture and geography I had never before realised had existed.
In his novels, the setting became dynamic characters, the power of his pen wove a tapestry of evocative landscapes. The Louisiana flooded forests became real, as did other landscapes of other stories. Evil became manifest in characters whose hearts did not exist; evil was something other than the absence of good; it was a living power that individuals adopted and then mobilised as it consumed their beings. The good guys were never quite good, but humanly flawed.
But "Feast Day of Fools" left me cold. I have never before read a novel by Mr Burke with the desire to get to the end so I could finish it. I was not moved at all by this novel. There was so much that was so unlike Mr Burke's writing. Sure, there was a surfeit of bad guys. But they were all after a nondescript person who had a "secret" about a technology that one could find at a local model plane shop, at least in basic mode. Mr Burke tried to make a global political thriller but it hasn't worked.
The characters all seem pretty much alike. Most are semi-evil, some are completely evil, one has some sort of problem about his mother. They are certainly fools, but I'm not quite sure they are having the kind of feast day the title suggests. The good guy, Sheriff Hackberry Holland, seems to live most of his life back in time in the Korean War. And we learn about it over and over. The character of his offsider, Pam, never quite coalesces.
Mr Burke's ability to almost make one weep at the power of his painted and dynamic landscapes seems to have dried up here. If it rained as often in the deserts and drylands of Texas and Mexico as it did in this book, they too would be wetlands.
I guess my disappointment arises from great expectations. I would always check the shelves of booksellers to see if a new James Lee Burke novel had appeared. I would get seriously excited when a new one appeared, and I would take it home and disappear for a while to read it. And then to read it again some time later. And then years later to go back to it. Maybe it was because of these expectations that I wasn't enthralled by Feast Day of Fools.
Yet my respect for Mr Burke and his work has to override this response to this latest novel. He has provided me with many wonderful reading moments and with extensive lessons about how an outstanding writer crafts words and sounds to create a world both beautiful and evil. And others might see Feast Day of Fools in a completely different light.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 10, 2011
First I would like to say I have read all of James Lee Burke's books, and obviously enjoy the Authors writing very much. No other writer can describe atmosphere and the surroundings like this author. That being said I felt that this may well be Mr. Burke's swan song. The Dave Robicheaux series became stale towards the end, as I felt we had been there and done that before. So I hope the Glass Rainbow was the last in the series. Feast Day of Fools also suffers from being repetitive, only in this case it is repetitive throughout the book. The lead character Hackberry Holland is an older version of Dave Robicheaux, but their ideals are the same, which I believe are also those of the author. The government, FBI, Military, and war are always bad. The problem with these convictions is that they don't hold up when facing reality. Hackberry Holland is so predictable in the way he behaves throughout the book that it detracts from the story. The villains in this book are many, with "the Preacher" being the best. He is a combination of so many levels of evil, and rage, yet also has a very interesting view of morality. I hope that Mr. Burke will not continue with this series or the Dave Robicheaux series, so that we the reader, will be able to focus on his outstanding talent as a writer, throughout his long career. The Author is entitled to his beliefs and opinions regarding how the world is and who is responsible for all of its evil, I just wish he would chose to put it in his memoirs or in a book of nonfiction, rather than in to this series of books. This book takes many current headlines, wrap them around government conspiracies, Leftist viewpoints, which not even Oliver Stone has landed upon, and creates a book that from another author would be acceptable. From someone as remarkable James Lee Burke this is not how I want to remember his work.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This could well be Burke's best. He has said that in the past about other books and who's to say that he was wrong? He's the most consistent writer in contemporary American letters and his `quality control' is absolute, so each new book could be considered a possible best.
In this case the arguments would be strong. It's long, ambitious and unrelenting. It takes his usual themes of good and evil, sin and redemption, a haunting past and frightening future, extreme love and overweening hate and wraps them in a large, violent, beautifully crafted package.
The feast day of fools is that medieval time when the loonies and layabouts do their thing, big time, and are then given absolution for it. Here, the cast of monsters and enigmatic ne'er do wells is a long one: a government agent with the secrets on our drone program, a serial killer we thought was dead, but isn't, a psychopath with a taste for torture, a Russian psychopath with a more advanced taste for torture, a woman who protects illegal immigrants and is considered, by some, to be a saint (though she has a dark past), a drunken local given to brandishing unloaded guns and a collection of evil-servant types who would be straight out of Shakespeare if Shakespeare had had the opportunity to write about the violence on the contemporary Tex/Mex border.
Take this heady mix and add Hackberry Holland, Burke's revived character from Rain Gods who first appeared in an old mainstream novel, Lay Down My Sword and Shield (a title that reappears as a line in Feast Day of Fools). Hackberry and his deputy Pam Tibbs share a love that is blunted by their difference in age, so we have a complex main plot with all of the evils and crazies and strangies loose in the desert and an anchoring subplot with Hack and Pam in love.
The writing, of course, is masterful, the observations worthy of marble. Burke is always at the top of his game, but here he just may have taken it a step further. I'm with Michael Connelly; this is the book of the year so far. Do not, repeat, do not, miss it.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2011
I had preordered Feast some time ago and had read several different authors. I was less than a chapter deep into Feast Day of Fools when Burke's storyline reminded me why he is my favorite author. I admit a preference for his southern novels but the characterizations and graphic descriptors in Feast are classic Burke. The characters are diverse and like all Burke's protagonists and villians continue to search for life's meaning. Another book you hate to see end but a most pleasant way to lose oneself and rethink mankind's idiosyncratic traits.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2012
I like James Lee Burke--he's a compelling writer. You just keep turning the pages. But he gets more and more absurd. I haven't finished this yet, and I might not. The novel is set in some place in Texas where every other person is angry or a psycopath or both. It's a county with what seems like 3000 people in it, and one sheriff and his deputy, but it has more mass murderers per capita than a mafia wedding. There's Crazy Jack Collins, there's a second nutty preacher; there's crazy Mexican killers, there's some kind of military contracter with hired killers, and there's a shady russian businessman/gangester who's also a mass killer. There's at least five killers running around, and they are all looking for one guy, and the FBI is looking for the guy, and they can't find him, even though he's running around killing people. But then , EVERYBODY in this book is running around killing people, or threatening to kill people, or being stopped just as they are about to kill someone in some crazy way.
And the Sheriff, Holland? All he does is wander around asking odd questions and issuing bitter threats. He's spent the entire novel so far arriving a day too late. He appears to do no "detecting" whatsoever. Even though there's this crazy messianic religious Chinese lady (there's a theme here!) on an isolated ranch, and each one of the multiple crazies and killers and psycopaths stops by multiple times, and perpetuate massive violence, the Sherrif does nothing. He doesn't put her under surveillance, or put a guard at her house. he doesn't gather evidence. he doesn't look for suspects. He doesn't do the obvious thing, which is drive out to the russians dude's ranch. The Russian gangster, it turns out, has a big ranch where he's doing something massively illegal involving big animals. Planes fly in an out all day long. But Sheriff Holland has no idea where or how to find this ranch. Holland appears to be senile or an idiot.
The "evil guy with supernatural powers" schtick was getting old back in Louisiana. In this novel, it's just over the top. And Sheriff Holland is a ridiculous character, who seems incapable for giving a traffic ticket much less finding the ranch of the russian gangster, which has RHINOS on it and planes flying in and out.
The genius of this genre, fron the point of view of selling books, is that once you find a formula that people like, that sells, you can run it into the ground like an old Toyota. Logic, plausibility: Neither of these things is needed. It's like Robert Parker--as the years went by the Spenser novels got to be more and more just a bag of tricks.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2012
I need to start off by saying that I've long been a fan of James Lee Burke. I have been enamored by his descriptive prose. I have enjoyed eccentric characters who speak in unlikely monologues of philosophy, theology and ethics. I have appreciated the dark tone and the complicated moral ambiguity of his novels. But....and I hate to say it.... sometimes too much of a good thing...is, well...frankly downright annoying.
I really struggled to finish this novel. Seriously, how many eccentric characters can exist in one small Texas town? One (maybe two) characters who pontificate about the state of the world, the nature of humanity, and the path to redemption and spirituality can be clever, perhaps even `thought provoking', but when every character in a novel speaks in pretentious monologues and pages are filled with rambling introspection, it quickly loses its charm.
The fact that it's pretentious is a big enough problem, but it also seriously erodes the credibility of the novel. This isn't a light-hearted quirky South Florida crime novel in the spirit of Carl Hiaasen where eccentric characters combine with an outrageous plot in a hilarious satirical romp. This is a serious novel. It's filled with unrelenting despair and cruelty. The fact that none of the characters who populate the novel are believable was a huge problem for me.
Many have mentioned credibility concerns regarding Hack's age. The man is north of 80 but still manages to mix it up with his fists and in the bedroom. I picture Clint Eastwood whenever I think of Hack, but I'm not sure even Dirty Harry has that level of prowess. Personally, this didn't bother me nearly as much as other credibility concerns. One thought that occurred to me throughout this novel was how much it seemed like the events of the novel were happening in a strange bubble. There was no indication ever that Hack reported to anyone, that there was political pressure, media attention, or even a hint that there was a community outside the small circle of players in the novel.
Simply put, this novel tested my patience. I didn't believe that any of the bizarre characters; from the Preacher, to Krill, to La Magdalena, to the Cowboy Minister, to Hack himself were real. This novel is a rambling, tedious, and pretentious exercise in self-indulgence. I may have to give up on Burke. I'm honestly not sure I have what it takes to wade through the prose of another one of his novels.
In the words of Captain Kurtz: "The horror, the horror, the horror...."
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2011
Burke is in his mid-70s chronologically, yet his most recent work defies easy categorization with respect to age. He writes with the strength of a man a third of his age, with the skill of a man half his age and with the acquired wisdom of three lifetimes. There is no falter to FEAST DAY OF FOOLS, no age-related intellectual palsy, no dimming of vision, physical or otherwise. In setting and subject matter, it is as sure, straight and true as the end product and result of a sharpshooter's rifle, yet as broad as a painter whose canvas is an end-to-end horizon. Burke's peers are John Steinbeck, William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy, and --- with FEAST DAY OF FOOLS and its predecessor, RAIN GODS --- Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour. But by virtue of the volume, force and consistency of his bibliography, Burke stands a step or so apart, wholly on his own.
FEAST DAY OF FOOLS returns to the southwest Texas border town that is the province of Sheriff Hackberry Holland, a former attorney who has earned the respect of his constituents by treating all within his purview equally and fairly. Holland nonetheless wrestles with nightmares, including continuing grief of the loss of his wife and his attraction to Pam Tibbs, his extremely capable and competent deputy who is several decades his junior.
The events here occur shortly after the conclusion of RAIN GODS, with Holland afforded little respite from the events of that work. An alcoholic ex-
Where does one start when attempting to review a novel on the order of FEAST DAY OF FOOLS by James Lee Burke? I have been at this work for some 14 years, doing the job passably at times, less so at others, recommending this novel or that to readers for various reasons. A lot of it might be considered momentum, all leading up to this author and this magnificent book. Whether you read books by the armful each week or month, or just one or two a year, or, perhaps, have not read a book from beginning to end since you left school, you simply must read FEAST DAY OF FOOLS, a flawless story, wonderfully, colorfully and fearfully told, and perfect in every way.
boxer named Danny Boy Lorca witnesses the torture and death of one man and the escape of another in a nightmarish desert tableau. His report of the events to Holland eventually lead Holland and Tibbs to an enigmatic and complicated woman named Anton Ling, whose isolated home serves as a sanctuary and way station for illegal immigrants. Ling dangerously puts Holland in the mind of his deceased wife, a fact that has the potential to cloud his judgment just as the deeds of Ling's past and his own intersect in ways that could never be predicted.
Matters are further complicated by the return of Preacher Jack Collins, who was presumed dead at the end of RAIN GODS. Collins is one of the most interesting and fearful characters one is likely to encounter in modern fiction, possessed of seemingly preternatural abilities and surprising frailties, and yes, a dangerous madness that has the potential to manifest itself against anyone crossing his path. Yet, as with a great number of the characters encountered in the pages of FEAST DAY OF FOOLS, Collins is not entirely incapable of redemption. As a number of different and dangerous players slowly converge upon a hobbled man carrying a deadly secret, Collins and Holland form a shaky and untrusting alliance as they approach a cataclysmic confrontation from which only survival is anything but guaranteed.
FEAST DAY OF FOOLS is a parable shot through with unforgettable narrative metaphor and characters, good and bad, who will find permanent stations in your waking hours and nightmares. If Burke is putting paid to the worlds he has created over the past several decades, his legions of readers have no cause to complain, for he has saved his finest wine for the end.
--- Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub