Monday, September 24, 2012

A Short Discourse on the Writings of James Lee Burke

"Feast Day of Fools" by James Lee Burke   Simon & Schuster   463 pages   $26.99

Burke is now 74; his first book was published two weeks after his 24th birthday.  Thus he's had 50 years of familiarity with his fiction characters such as Dave Robicheaux, Clete Purcell, Billy Bob  Holland and his cousin Sheriff Hackberry Holland.  If you haven't read him, you may still have seen his works.  Three of his books were turned into movies. 

I'm halfway through his latest ("Feast Day") and despite being a devoted fan, I'm really not liking this one very much.   Burke has always employed the following tools - mental flashbacks to Korea, the Civil War and Viet Nam,  ghosts, dry drunks, weather and terrain as living characters.  Personal philosophies are inserted that have little to do with the action of the moment.  The bad guys are always grotesquely limned with weird facial/cranial features and/or skin problems.  Body shapes might be pear-shaped or like a pile of wire coat hangars. 

But Burke interrups himself every time he slips into a flashback in the middle of the action. 

He uses similes that don't make sense.  On page 7, a character is described as hungover with "his breath dense and sedimentary, like a load of fruit that had been dumped down a stone well."  Stone well?  Dumping fruit down a well?  That doesn't make any kind of sense to me. 

In short this is a confusing compendium of then and now, philosophies, memories that are not germane to the plot and worse, it rambles on for 463 pages of nonsense. 

I do heartily recommend his earlier works.  Clete Purcell, formerly a New Orleans police department cop is the best of them all.  Clete is a merry prankster who filled a thug's convertible with wet concrete, poured sand in the gas tank of a thug's private plane and waved goodbye as the plane took off.   He has a real sense of fun. 

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