Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel by James Lee Burke

  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 15, 2014)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00HB62NII

Book Description

From “America’s best novelist” (The Denver Post): A sprawling thriller drenched with atmosphere and intrigue that takes a young boy from a chance encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to the trenches of World War II and the oil fields along the Texas-Louisiana coast.

It is 1934 and the Depression is bearing down when sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends as Weldon puts a bullet through the rear window of Clyde’s stolen automobile.

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and his sergeant, Hershel Pine, escape certain death in the Battle of the Bulge and encounter a beautiful young woman named Rosita Lowenstein hiding in a deserted extermination camp. Eventually, Weldon and Rosita fall in love and marry and, with Hershel, return to Texas to seek their fortunes.

There, they enter the domain of jackals known as the oil business. They meet Roy Wiseheart—a former Marine aviator haunted with guilt for deserting his squadron leader over the South Pacific—and Roy’s wife Clara, a vicious anti-Semite who is determined to make Weldon and Rosita’s life a nightmare. It will be the frontier justice upheld by Weldon’s grandfather, Texas lawman Hackberry Holland, and the legendary antics of Bonnie and Clyde that shape Weldon’s plans for saving his family from the evil forces that lurk in peacetime America and threaten to destroy them all.

About the Author

James Lee Burke is an American author best known for his mysteries, particularly the Dave Robicheaux series. He has twice received the Edgar Award for Best Novel, for Black Cherry Blues in 1990 and Cimarron Rose in 1998.

Burke was born in Houston, Texas, but grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Missouri, receiving a BA and MA from the latter. He has worked at a wide variety of jobs over the years, including working in the oil industry, as a reporter, and as a social worker. He was Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, succeeding his good friend and posthumous Pulitzer Prize winner John Kennedy Toole, and preceding Ernest Gaines in the position. Shortly before his move to Montana, he taught for several years in the Creative Writing program at Wichita State University in the 1980s.

Burke and his wife, Pearl, split their time between Lolo, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana. Their daughter, Alafair Burke, is also a mystery novelist.

The book that has influenced his life the most is the 1929 family tragedy "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner.

My Review

Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke is a departure from Burke's usual. It is a historical novel set in the Depression, World War II and the Cold War era. Burke does not stray from his basic theme of good versus evil. He has an amazing capacity to get into the hearts and minds of those of us among us who are evil to the core.

The book opens with Weldon Holland encountering Bonnie and Clyde. The meeting foreshadows later events to some degree. Weldon heads off to war during World War II where he rescues the love of his life from a concentration camp. Rosita accompanies Weldon back to the United States at the end of the war. Life won't be easy for the two of them as Rosita is a Spanish Jewess whose family are communists. This story will be a wonderful introduction to young people who did not grow up during the Cold War and who did not personally witness the hysteria the word communist could summon.

This is a story that only an accomplished writer who puts his heart and soul into his words could write. The main story is set in the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana where scoundrels abound. Besides meeting Rosita in the war, Weldon also met Herschel Pine who became his business partner in the pipeline business. Hershel and his wife Linda Gail figure prominently in the story as well. Linda Gail is seduced by the bright lights of Hollywood and the men who run it.

James Lee Burke captures a period in American history in a way that no other author can. This is a brilliantly told tale that I know will be hard to forget. You need to read this beautifully written book. It is available this month.

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