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Feast Day of Fools: A Novel (A Holland Family Novel) Hardcover – September 27, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 306 customer reviews
Book 3 of 3 in the Hackberry Holland Series

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, September 2011: James Lee Burke’s impressive body of work spans five decades and includes two Edgar Award-winning mysteries--yet his 30th book, Feast Day of Fools, may arguably be his best effort to date. In this sequel to his 2009 novel, Rain Gods, Burke returns to the hard-scrabble Texas town on the Mexican border, and its contemplative sheriff Hackberry Holland. Holland is a quintessential Burke hero—deeply moral, tortured by past sins, appalled at the depravity of our fallen world, and firmly committed to justice. Feast Day of Fools opens with a horrific murder in the desert. One man is tortured and dismembered by a menacing psychopath named Krill. Another man, a government agent whom Krill kidnapped and planned to sell to Al Qaeda, escapes into the night. In its aftermath, Holland encounters a vibrant cast of characters—including Anton Ling, an enigmatic woman whose home is a place of refuge to desperate immigrants, and the riveting Preacher Jack Collins, a terrifying serial killer, who had seemingly died at the end of Rain Gods. Packed with lush imagery and allegorical heft, Feast Day of Fools is a tightly wound thriller that reconfirms James Lee Burke’s status as a master storyteller.--Shane Hansanuwat

Amazon Exclusive: Michael Connelly Reviews Feast Day of Fools

Michael Connelly is a former journalist and best-selling author of The Scarecrow, The Fifth Witness, The Brass Verdict, and The Lincoln Lawyer.

You know what is rare? A veteran and prodigious writer who never lets you down. Who, with each book, and I’m talking about a lot of books, makes you feel like you have discovered something new, learned some hidden truth about human behavior and society. James Lee Burke is one of those rarities. Book to book he keeps it going, never disappointing. Last year's masterpiece is just prelude to this year's new masterpiece.

It flat out astounds me. I can count the names of other writers in this category on one hand. There is no magic formula for this. It's something that comes from within, an indeterminate mixture of craft and wisdom and the relentless pursuit of perfection. It comes from knowing deep in the bones that life is about reconciliation and redemption. Burke's books carry these truths in spades.

About twenty-five years ago I picked up a book called The Neon Rain in a bookstore simply because I liked the cover. I read the flaps and read the first page and went to the cash register. Soon I was into my first ride with James Lee Burke.

The Neon Rain was that year's masterpiece. This year, we have Feast Day of Fools and my survey of Burke books in between concludes that he remains the heavy weight champ, a great American novelist whose work, taken individually or as a whole, is unsurpassed.

It is the writer's job to look out the window at the world and tell us how he sees it. In this book Burke puts the unblinking eye on the issues of politics and immigration and religion, synthesizing it all down to the character and impulse of violence and vengeance. At center, he gives us Hackberry Holland, a man who carries the past with him like the Texas sheriff's badge pinned to his chest. He gives us villains as treacherous as any ever put down on page. And he gives us prose as deeply etched and poetic as the landscape along the Texas-Mexico border. Here’s just one little taste that I loved: "Hackberry realized that he was about to witness one of those moments when evil reveals itself for what it is-–insane in its fury and self-hatred and its animus at whatever reminds it of itself."

This is a story about the evil that men do. It is allegory. It is knowledge. As one of the characters says to the man who has witnessed his cruelty, "Maybe one day you will understand men like us."

I think James Lee Burke does and this year's masterpiece takes us closer to the heart of the matter. It makes us look through the window and see the world in a new way. --Michael Connelly


An Indie Next List Pick for October 2011

“Holy shit does this novel crush into its pages a whole war chest of bloody drama and brutal questions about what it means to be an American and a Christian and a Christian American in the new century. . . . James Lee Burke—muscular and elegiac, brutal and compassionate—is a Stetson-wearing, spur-jangling giant among novelists.”—Benjamin Percy for Esquire

“Burke’s evocative prose remains a thing of reliably fierce wonder.”Entertainment Weekly

“James Lee Burke presses onward with his singular mission to rewrite the American western in Feast Day of Fools . . . Burke is constructing a whole mew mythology in this series, with characters haunted by history and driven by ghosts. . . . Hackberry Holland’s assertion that ‘a martial and savage spirit had ruled these hills’ since the time of the conquistadors is a good man’s way of saying that the violence we do sinks into the ground we walk on and becomes part of our collective heritage.”The New York Times Book Review

“James Lee Burke's thirty superbly written mysteries and Westerns have always been allegorical, illuminating the grandest of themes. Over the years, he has written about racism, neocolonialism, the rape of the environment, the hijacking of Christianity by hateful bigots and the futility of war. He has written about manipulative political and business figures, and about the quest for individual and national redemption. He has also explored the nature of evil. . . . In Feast Day of Fools, Burke pulls all of his themes together in a master work that comprises his unified theory of America at the beginning of the 21st century. . . . And as always in a Burke novel, the landscape is vividly described in passages so poetic they could be broken into lines of verse.”—Bruce DeSilva, The Associated Press

“He’s a genius, Burke, and I read everything he puts out. All his novels are about good vs. evil and how hard it is to overcome evil. This one’s about a Texas sheriff and two villains, one associated with the [drug] cartels, the other a mass murderer. The three of them collide.”Bill O'Reilly for the New York Post

“When the literary lights of the 21st century go marching in, James Lee Burke will be leading the parade. For five decades, Burke has created memorable novels that weave exquisite language, unforgettable characters, and social commentary into written tapestries that mirror the contemporary scene. His work transcends genre classification. . . . Feast Day of Fools is a richly complex novel with several themes and subplots. . . . extraordinary characterizations, dialogue, sense of place, and an almost mystical, allegorical summation.”Philadelphia Inquirer

“Riveting . . . Burke is creating an allegorical, almost Biblical setting here: The lost wander hopelessly in the desert, seeking revenge or redemption or some terrible mix of both. The moral center in all of this is Hackberry Holland, who feels old ‘in the way people feel old when they have more knowledge of the world than they need.’ He’s Burke’s most fascinating character, a man whose sense of justice has been shaken but not destroyed. Equally compelling is Pam Tibbs, the most no-nonsense woman in fictional law enforcement (‘Men often thought she was trying to be cute. They were mistaken’). The push-and-pull between the two is just one more of Burke’s thrilling examples of the mysteries of the human heart.”The Miami Herald

“Like the hero of his 30th work, to be published Tuesday, James Lee Burke delivers—again. There's a reason Burke, 75, has earned the Grand Master title from the Mystery Writers of America and is tagged by some colleagues as the greatest living mystery writer. . . . He combines complex characterization, driving action and a philosophical bent—and his consistency is remarkable, carrying him through 18 Dave Robicheaux books, set in Louisiana, and now the third novel in the Hack Holland series. The man is legendary, and rightly so. . . . But Feast Day of Fools is more than action. It's a sprawling, compelling, allegorical story with characters that just won't get out of my mind. Through it all, Burke shares some of his hard-won knowledge about life. And that makes it one of the Grand Master's best.”New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Nobody turns suspense into poetry like James Lee Burke.”San Antonio Express-News

“At 75, Burke is writing each book as if it could be his final one. . . . [Feast Day of Fools] is soaked with a sense of mortality. . . . It's easy to hear echoes of Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, but Burke is his own writer. He carries off a rich underlayer of Christian imagery without falling into predictable symbolism. Burke is a master of meaty dialogue, darkly funny passages in which characters reveal themselves while talking at cross-purposes. And this woebegone place, beset by thunderstorms that don't penetrate the hard soil, is just as vivid, though very different, from the swampy Louisiana of his Robicheaux novels. . . . Burke uses the simple framework of a series mystery to explore a world at the border of the realistic and the mythic.”The Columbus Dispatch

Feast Day of Fools is a singular achievement, exploring the effects of moral decay on an aging man's heart, while it's also an allegory for America's corrupted soul. . . . In Burke's characteristic brutal, bold Faulknerian style, Hackberry Holland laments for God and country and wonders why we are so easily swayed by the proselytizers and the powerful.”Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“After 30 or so titles, fans of crime novelist James Lee Burke approach his books with certain expectations, whether the setting is Louisiana, Montana or south Texas. . . . There will be lyrical descriptions of the natural world, and an aging lawman battling his own demons while contemplating the mysterious ways of human good and evil. Mostly evil, which in Burke’s hands can reach depths of almost supernatural intensity. . . . Feast Day of Fools showcases many of Burke’s strengths beautiful descriptive passages, tortured (sometimes literally) heroes, memorable villains, and great set-pieces when violent men (and women) confront each other.”Providence Journal-Bulletin

“Nobody writes quite like James Lee Burke. He gets better with each successive book. . . . Hold on tight, this is a wild ride.”Dayton Daily News

“Reading Feast Day of Fools is an experience in yin and yang. It's a beautiful poem shot full of lead. It's like a picture postcard slashed with a bloody knife. It's heartbreakingly gorgeous and sandpaper-harsh, both at the same time. . . . [If] you're up for a wild ride through the sagebrush, then, Feast Day of Fools is a book to own.”Flint Journal

“Holland is a quintessential Burke hero — deeply moral, tortured by past sins, appalled at the depravity of our fallen world, and firmly committed to justice.”Wichita Eagle

“Burke writes masterfully, evoking the best images this side of Cormac McCarthy as he spins beautiful tales of horrible people doing terrible things. . . . Rarely do mysteries challenge readers this much. Or linger so long after they are finished.”The Post and Courier (Charleston)

“Darkly lyrical and utterly chilling.”Tampa Bay Tribune

“Expertly plotted and paced . . . Burke's settings, like his characters, are brought to life in vivid impressionistic language. The novel moves among arid, Bible-like desert locales and nightmarish Mexican bars and whorehouses before climaxing in a Hurricane Katrina of lethal violence. Not everyone walks away. Those who do are damaged in multiple and everlasting ways. Feast Day of Fools is strong medicine, but Burke's ravishing prose makes it worth the taking.”The Roanoke Times

“[O]utstanding. . . . The richness of Burke's characters, always one of his strengths, reaches new heights . . . . The intricately plotted narrative takes numerous unexpected turns, and Burke handles his trademark themes of social justice and corruption with his usual subtlety.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“As Burke steers the elaborately structured narrative toward its violent conclusion, we are afforded looks inside the tortured psyches of his various combatants, finding there the most unlikely of connections between the players. This is one of Burke’s biggest novels, in terms of narrative design, thematic richness, and character interplay, and he rises to the occasion superbly, a stand-up guy at the keyboard, as always. . . . Though he is best known for his Dave Robicheaux series, the broader canvas of this Hackberry Holland adventure makes a fittingly grand stage on which to play out such a landmark event in American publishing.”—Bill Ott, Booklist (starred review)

“The dialogue scenes, along with the action sequences, the South Texas landscape and the indelibly conflicted characters make you want to give Burke a medal.”Kirkus Reviews

“[Feast Day of Fools] further cements Burke’s status as one of America’s greatest contemporary novelists. . . . Burke weaves a tapestry of unique characters whose widely differing motivations enrich his tale. . . . This rich novel will satisfy Burke’s fans and should draw new ones who have not yet had the privilege of reading his works.”Library Journal

“As the 30th book in James Lee Burke's highly regarded oeuvre, Feast Day of Fools takes readers on a spiritual journey of redemption with a careful and insightful look at the human heart with its capacity for violence and self-delusion as well as its ability to love and to hope.”—ShelfAwareness.com

“If James Lee Burke worked his magic with a paintbrush, Feast Day of Fools would be the Sistine Chapel of his novels. . . . Reviewers have compared Burke to Cormac McCarthy, particularly his No Country For Old Men. Well, both stories share a deep southwest Texas locale and both deal in the darkness of a man's heart; I would go a step farther and say Burke's newest book might have more in common with Joseph Conrad. Like the evolution of Conrad's writings, Burke, too, has entered a higher stage with Feast Day of Fools.”—BlogCritics.org

“You know what is rare? A veteran and prodigious writer who never lets you down. Who, with each book, and I’m talking about a lot of books, makes you feel like you have discovered something new, learned some hidden truth about human behavior and society. James Lee Burke is one of those rarities. Book to book he keeps it going, never disappointing. Last year's masterpiece is just prelude to this year's new masterpiece. . . . This year, we have Feast Day of Fools and my survey of Burke books in between concludes that he remains the heavy weight champ, a great American novelist whose work, taken individually or as a whole, is unsurpassed.”—Michael Connelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Lincoln Lawyer

“James Lee Burke is, quite simply, a genius, an exemplar of all that is great in American writing, and Feast Day of Fools is moving, and humane, and poetically, terrifyingly brilliant. As Burke gets older, he just gets better: in doing so, he gives hope to the generation of writers influenced by him, while simultaneously reminding us of how far we still have to go to be that good.”—John Connolly, New York Times bestselling author of The Burning Soul

“As is usual for Burke, this lyrical and violent crime novel excels in its descriptions and its honest portrayal of good and evil.”Canberra Times (Australia)

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Product Details

  • Series: A Holland Family Novel
  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781451643114
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451643114
  • ASIN: 145164311X
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (306 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,075 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Hardcover
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!
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Format: Hardcover
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.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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