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on July 16, 2014
James Lee Burke's WAYFARING STRANGER is a richly imagined, sweeping tale that will take readers back to a time in America's history that still retained some of its innocence. The story invites readers to follow along with Weldon Avery Holland as he struggles to hang on to who he is, his values and his beliefs through war, corruption and when faced with the depths of evil that men will go to.

From a run-in with the Barrow Gang, to the final stages of the European Theater of World War II, to the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana, Weldon Holland's story is thrilling, suspense- and danger-filled, and will keep readers riveted. The narrative speaks of a country tainted by the fear of Communism, an elitist class of unscrupulous and unethical people envious and fearful of those not like them, and a man desperate to protect all that he has - his friends, the woman he loves, himself.

This is the first novel I've read by Author James Lee Burke, but it certainly won't be the last. His writing transported me into Weldon's world, a world that had both good and evil, darkness and light and all the varying shades of grey in between. The author painted the most incredible picture with his words. His landscape was sometimes beautiful and at others terrible, but it was so exquisitely detailed that I felt as if I was right there along with his characters as they struggled to uncover the truths about themselves, about those they want to trust, and about those they shouldn't.

I didn't anticipate making an emotional connection with this story or its characters. With the way the narrative was presented I expected to fall in love with writing, the setting, the history, the epic nature of the story. But I didn't expect it to allow for a bond with the characters or their plight. I thought I would simply be intrigued, my interest piqued with all that was happening. I knew I would be curious about who was behind it all, who was guilty, who was innocent, and whose behavior couldn't be easily defined. I did not imagine making any connection, let alone how strong a connection I did make.

I was drawn into Weldon Holland's story from the moment of his fascination with Bonnie Parker. But it wasn't until he met and saved Rosita Lowenstein that I began to get to know and to like him. He proved himself to be honorable, loyal, understanding, forgiving, trusting, and good-hearted but not a push-over. He was a fighter and was not afraid to go after what he wanted. He became a character I was rooting for and hoped would triumph in the end.

There are many layers to this story that I'm still thinking about. It was a love story. It was a story about human nature. It was a story about acceptance and forgiveness, about right and wrong, about actions and consequences. It was a story about being honorable and sticking to one's beliefs no matter how difficult. It was a story about what it means to be a hero. It was a story about redemption. And it was so much more.

I read this in one sitting and it was unputdownable. I didn't want break away from the story, to leave the world even for a moment. But it's a story that I will re-read and take my time with so as to be able to further explore some of those layers, to be able to follow some of the trains of thought I'd set aside in order to not distract myself from what was in front of me, and to be able to delve deeper into the many ideas the author presented.

WAYFARING STRANGER is a story that brought me to tears, made me think, took me to a world that was both exciting and horrifying, and left its mark, much like Bonnie Parker did on young Weldon Avery Holland.

It is a fascinating, beautiful, heartrending and masterfully written story that is unparalleled and absolutely unforgettable.
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on August 12, 2014
Such a hard book to review and rate. For the first few chapters I thought this was Burke's opus, the one I and thousands of admirers knew he was capable of writing. This, I thought, was the book that would elevate him from "literary crime writer" to LITERARY genius. The characterizations of the good guys, Weldon Holland, Hershel Pine, and Rosita are superb and the prose even more poetic and insightful than ever. The book slows through the middle but this is typical of character-driven novels. But, the novel's one failing is the two-dimensional cut-outs of the bad guys. Burke falls back into his jaded use of old, rich, vague, white guys as the evil manipulators. Still, a very good book and I am glad I read it, but it is not the book it could have been. I've read Burke for many years. I admire his Robicheaux and Holland novels -- at least, ones set in the South. I do not like his Montana books at all -- and I believe he has something epic in him. This book was so close, so satisfying on many levels. But not the epic that it hinted at being in the beginning.
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on June 16, 2016
One of JLB's best novels. Expands story line to early days of Weldon Holland, grandson of legendary Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland, into to his later life living in Texas. Covers Weldon's teenage encounter with Bonnie and Clyde. Then shifts to his involvement in action at the Battle of the Bulge where with help from, Herschel, his rifle company's sergent, Weldon rescues Rosita his future wife from a Nazi concentration camp. After the war Weldon and Herschel start a very successful pipeline company which brings them headon into a rich oil baron's family who wants to take over their pipeline company. Weldon and Herschel's fight to retain ownership bring them into many dangerous situations that threaten them and their wives. A strong side story involves Herschel's wife, Linda Gail, who is recognized by a Hollywood producer as a potential movie star and how this draws Weldon and Herschel into a complex situation involving a playboy son of the oil baron named Roy Winehard. In typical JLB fashion there are many evil people involved in the story as well as genuine heros fighting for what is right. Typical too is JLB's colorful use of prose to paint background scenes that enhance the story line. This book would serve well for a screenplay for a great movie.
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on December 21, 2016
As a long time fan of Mr. Burke's work, I stretched to give this novel 3 stars. I became engrossed in the story and the authors wonderful narratives, BUT, I have always hated a novel or movie that has no resolution or ending. When the writer leaves it up to the reader to try and fabricate a solution to our protagonist,s troubles, that happened, unbelievably enough, in spite of overwhelming odds I am left hugely unsatisfied. Imagine, if you will, our hero has been fighting a powerful, unstoppable monster for most all of the story, and finally it has him cornered in a cage with no means of escape. You turn the page to see the outcome, and without explanation, our hero's life has just returned to normal,he goes home and his life just resumes. All your effort reading the previous 400+ pages feels wasted. You wish you had never started the darn thing. The author could have at least ended it as awaking from a dream, as totally trite as that would have been, it is better than nothing at all.

Mr Burke, please, please why? Why did you ruin a great read?
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on July 25, 2014
Burke spends lots of time in this novel developing more different characters more thoroughly and deeply than in previous novels. In addition, this master of description paints the landscapes of the Ardennes, of Texas, and of Louisiana as deftly as in any of his previous books. The novel starts during the last days of World War II and proceeds to the years immediately following, but it is the war that reveals the quality of the two principal characters as they rescue Rosita. The fact that she is Jewish remains important, and Burke also comments on the damages the oil rigs are doing to the environment by having the narrator reflect in the present about the earlier years in the story. Burke also focuses on the corrupting influence the movie industry can have. If this seems like too many strands, rest assured that the author weaves them together to create a profound commentary about the many ways evil challenges nobility. In "Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel" Burke has found a way to address all the themes that are dear to his heart and to use the past to shed light on the present.
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on July 20, 2015
No author, I believe, sits down with the outline of a novel and says to him/herself, "I'm going to write the great American Novel." If, among all the authors I currently read, I were to guess who might just do it while writing what he envisioned as the first entry into a series about another branch of the Holland family, it would have been James Lee Burke. I believe he has done it with "Wayfaring Stranger."
The tale starts with young Weldon Holland having a chance encounter with Bonnie and Clyde. It goes on to tell the story of how Weldon becomes an officer in the infantry of the U.S. Army and survives, D-Day, the Ardennes and The Battle of the Bulge. He is part of the group that liberates on of the Nazi death camps, and plus a living woman from under a pile of corpses. She turns out to be a Jewish woman whose mother was a Communist in Spain before WWII. After the war, Weldon searches for her and finally stops her from getting on a boat to Haifa in what was then Palestine. They marry and return to the U.S.

He comes home a true war hero, but is too unassuming to try to make money off of that, despite sycophants who want him to run for office. Instead, he and a soldier with whom he served form an oil pipeline company, using machines that the Nazis had used to make the welds on their King Tiger Tanks. They revolutionize the industry and become both loved and hated, because Weldon is too principled to play the "big oil" game and makes an enemy who sets out to destroy him and his wife and his parter and his wife.
The story is so full of the history of the days of the "Red Scare", and the story settings move from Louisiana, to Texas, to Hollywood, where Weldon's partner's wife ends up having a very successful career in Hollywood.
A lot of the story tells of how Weldon fights those who would destroy him and has some of the most exciting and harrowing chase scenes I have ever read.
That's all I'll say about the plot.
What makes this story, this book, so great is JLB's skill at creating characters who are so real you swear you have met them at some time in your life. He also blends in history in a way that few others writing today can do. His skill at writing forces the well read to compare him to Steinbeck, and even more so, Faulkner. Yet, while I have no doubt that these writers and others influenced James Lee Burke, he is, in the end, his own unique voice and style and is one of the greatest living Americans putting pen to paper. One cannot read anything he has written and not find oneself reflecting upon one's own life, its triumphs and its mistakes. His ability to create well-developed, complex characters and plots as complex as life itself can be, set him apart. He is a living treasure in the literary world.
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on December 7, 2014
Let me start by saying that James Lee Burke is one of my very favorite writers. I've read and enjoyed nearly everything he's written. However, unlike some of the other reviewers here, I did not find the characters to be very interesting, and about a third of the way into the book, I just stopped reading. I just didn't develop any real interest in the story, or care about any of the characters.
The other aspect of this book that I found mildly annoying, is that Burke seems to come from the POV that all wealthy & successful people got that way either through inheritance or by evil manipulation of the poor. While I am sure the "Occupy Wall St" zombies would find this welcoming, as it reinforces their uninformed view, I did not. In fact, it seems as though this theme has become more prominent in Burke's novels of late, and I hope he eases off. All in all, I found this to be among the least interesting of Burke's novels, and even as a huge fan of his work in general, I cannot recommend it. To me, Feast Day for Fools was so much better than this, it's hard to believe it was written by the same guy.
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Wayfaring Stranger, James Lee Burke’s new standalone novel, is a tale of Weldon Holland, his wife Rosita, his partner, Hershel Pine and Hershel’s wife, Linda Gail. Weldon is the grandson of Hackberry Holland, a character from three other Burke novels.

The first half of the novel recalls the plot of Forrest Gump, in that Weldon’s life touches many of the major people and events of his time. As a young man, Weldon encounters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker and even puts a .44 round through the rear window and into the dashboard of their 1932 Chevy (a car that will contribute to an interesting, almost ‘magic realist’ plot point later in the novel). He participates in the second wave of the Normandy invasion, eventually finds himself in the Ardennes and finally survives to return home.

In Germany he had saved the life of Rosita Lowenstein, a Spanish Jew, whose relatives had communist connections. Those elements of her past follow her to the U.S. where (formerly Lieutenant) Holland and (formerly Sergeant) Pine start up a business laying pipe and eventually drilling for oil along the Gulf Coast. They utilize the welding technology utilized by the Germans in building Tiger tanks, patent it, and enjoy great financial success.

This financial success brings envy and mortal threats to their lives as those lives become intertwined with those of evil figures within the oil industry. The fact that Linda Gail is able to become a film star further complicates their lives, as she becomes involved with Hollywood figures who also prove to be very destructive.

In this portion of their lives they encounter Bugsy Siegel and Virginia Hill, thus continuing the Forrest Gump theme. Weldon, however, is no Forrest. He is a classic JLB hero, like Dave Robicheaux, Billy Bob Holland, and Clete Purcell. A fundamentally good man, Weldon finds himself in a confrontation with pure evil. The result? Weldon says that when he identifies those who are trying to destroy him it will be a day that they will remember.

Thus, the rhythms of the novel are those of the good man being beset by forces beyond his ken and, to a degree, beyond his control, forces that—in good Chandler fashion—involve the mutual corruption of big business and law enforcement. Throughout the better part of the novel we see Weldon and Rosita being victimized by those forces, but since this is a JLB novel, we have little doubt that they will survive and deal some significant revenge in the process.

The connections with the Hackberry Holland novels is specific and direct, but this is not a Hackberry Holland novel, though he does make a number of memorable appearances and delivers some classic one-liners. He is a superb character.

While the evil within the novel is deep and very dark, it is not rooted in the distant past, as so often happens in the JLB novels. It is more up-close and personal here, though it is not always clear who is on Weldon’s side and who is attempting to destroy him and his family.

This is a sprawling novel, occupying a great deal of historical space and time, but the plotting is tight, the characters memorable, the description incomparable and the setting(s) beautifully realized. A slight variation on the usual JLB story, its quality is exceptional. Every JLB fan will embrace it, as will every reader of mainstream fiction who finds his or her way to its pages. Highly recommended.

(Cool detail: Jonathan Kellerman has described JLB as the ‘Faulkner of crime fiction’. In Wayfaring Stranger the narrator reports some comments made about Faulkner by Jack Warner, who stands on the periphery of the novel, having signed Linda Gail to a lucrative contract.)
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on December 13, 2015
Even though there are some things I don’t quite like about Wayfaring Stranger, I still rate it 5 stars for the following reason: James Lee Burke’s prose is unfailingly elegant and majestic, and is a sheer pleasure to read. Very few authors writing today are in JLB’s class, and most novelists’ work wither in comparison. Burke’s descriptive powers are on par with those of Pulitzer winners Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx.

That being said, Wayfaring Stranger seems, in my humble estimation, to suffer from certain excesses: although no one writes setting as wonderfully as Burke, the abundance of it slows this story to the point I found myself skimming, something I’ve rarely done while reading JLB. Another issue I had is with the dialogue. Burke’s characters seem to constantly exchange profundities, and while it’s interesting to read, it is far from genuine; real people simply do not converse this way. By way of comparison, the dialogue in Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Lonesome Dove, reads as authentic and is every bit as profound as Burke’s often heavy-handed approach.

For readers who enjoy tightly plotted novels, be warned that Wayfaring Stranger will raise your eyebrows. The central conflict involves an evil and powerful oil tycoon who decides to destroy the protagonist’s life based on a single conversation. This premise was hard to swallow; the conversation was not one that would logically induce such a response. And the resolution of the conflict was neither conclusive nor rewarding.

Regardless of my misgivings, Wayfaring Stranger is still a very worthy read, as is every book written by JLB, whose talent is a gift to the reading public.
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on July 28, 2014
Another wonderful accomplishment by Mr. Burke. This is the author I try to emulate ( er, I have a LONG way to go on that score!). Dave Robicheaux is one of my absolute favorite characters, and although Weldon Holland doesn't seem as definitive as the Louisiana detective, he is a tough nut up against rich and powerful men who will stop at nothing to take what he has.

Positives- Burke's descriptions of places and people are beyond compare. Although his prose is deceptively simple, the reader can smell the swamp gas, and feel the dry Texas heat, hear the cannon's repercussions, and see the sky melting red- The character's motivations are sometimes a little murky but again- described beautifully and completely understandable.

Negatives- very few. I have found myself feeling a little jolted out of POV in his last couple of books. Burke often writes in the first person, which is hard to do but effectively immediate. So, it's disconcerting when we go from Waldon's point of view directly to someone else... it's as though GOD has come down and whispered in your ear.
Still, this one little nit aside- Burke is, IMO, the epitome of American writers and a master of the craft.

5 stars!
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