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Feast Day of Fools: A Novel [Hardcover]

James Lee Burke
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 27 2011
Sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols a small Southwest Texas border town with a deep and abiding respect for the citizens in his care. Still mourning the loss of his cherished wife and locked in a perilous almost-romance with his deputy, Pam Tibbs, a woman many decades his junior, Hackberry feeds off the deeds of evil men to keep his own demons at bay.

When alcoholic ex-boxer Danny Boy Lorca witnesses a man tortured to death in the desert and reports it, Hack’s investigation leads to the home of Anton Ling, a regal, mysterious Chinese woman whom the locals refer to as La Magdalena and who is known for sheltering illegals. Ling denies having seen the victim or the perpetrators, but there is something in her steely demeanor and aristocratic beauty that compels Hackberry to return to her home again and again as the investigation unfolds. Could it be that the sheriff is so taken in by this creature who reminds him of his deceased wife that he would ignore the possibility that she is just as dangerous as the men she harbors?

The danger in the desert increases tenfold with the return of serial murderer Preacher Jack Collins, whom The New York Times called “one of Burke’s most inspired villains.” Presumed dead at the close of Rain Gods, Preacher Jack has reemerged with a calm, single-minded zeal for killing that is more terrifying than the muzzle flash of his signature machine gun. But this time he and Sheriff Holland have a common enemy.

Praised by Joyce Carol Oates for “the luminosity of his writerly voice,” James Lee Burke returns with his most allegorical novel to date, illuminating vital issues of our time—immigration, energy, religious freedom—with the rich atmosphere and devastatingly flawed, authentic characters that readers have come to celebrate during the five decades of his brilliant career.

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Review

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)

About the Author

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, and named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, is the author of thirty-one previous novels and two collections of short stories, including such New York Times bestsellers as The Glass RainbowSwan Peak, The Tin Roof Blowdown, Last Car to Elysian Fields, and Rain Gods. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Hack Feb. 17 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Boring and predictable. You got the hero with the troubled past, the unlikely love interest and the religious vigilante. I gave up when the characters blathered away before finally deciding to rescue some poor schmuck from a burning building.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Evil in small-town Texas Sept. 29 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
I had never heard of James Lee Burke until I came across Feast Day of Fools in a used book store. Considering that this was the thirtieth novel in a long and highly successful writing career, I'm not entirely sure how I'd missed Mr. Burke all this time.
This is the third book featuring the main character, small-town Texas Sheriff Hackberry Holland, but one doesn't have to have read either of the first two to understand and enjoy this book. There were, however, some very noticeable particularities to the author's writing style.
The first thing that struck me in reading Feast Day is how every sentence, every paragraph, every action taken by any character is accompanied by long and detailed descriptions. Mr. Burke leaves very little to imagine, as his pages are like paintings with words. The second thing I noticed is how much his characters talk: in the middle of a shoot-out, or just sitting around, the dialogue often goes on endlessly. The topics they touch on often include religion, spirituality and mysticism, to name a few. And the way many of his characters speak is so stylized, so over-the-top, that it is almost jarringly unrealistic as it comes in the midst of scenes that are gritty and down to earth.
If these sound like complaints, then they are not major ones. Burke's descriptive power is eloquent enough, without being too florid, that one gets quickly used to his detailed descriptions of every desert vista or mountain top. The wordiness of his characters is entertaining in its own way (although the speaking styles of several of them is almost indistinguishable), except when they have a split-second to act and spend several paragraphs talking about what their lives actually mean.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Hack Is Back; Again Aug. 2 2013
Format:Paperback
In this third entry of the Hackberry Holland {not to be confused with Huckleberry Hound} series, Preacher Jack Collins, who we last saw disappearing into a snake filled cave with Holland firing close behind him, {"Rain Gods"}, emerges unscathed to team up with an idealistic young engineer intent on revealing classified secrets concerning the government drone program.
On their trail are a Russian gangster, a group of vigilantes, a Mexican human smuggler and an FBI agent. Also in the mix are an alcoholic Native American and a Chinese woman who runs an underground railroad for illegal immigrants.
All these characters are also after each other, which results in a great deal of violence, killings and general mayhem.
Out to get them all is the self righteous, puritanical Sheriff Holland and his big mouthed, aggressive deputy, Pam Tibbs, with whom he has an ambiguous romantic relationship.{Will they or won't they, and who cares?)
This is not a stand alone novel but rather a continuation of "Rain Gods" and should be read in sequence. But given that Burke is not a fan of the Hemingway school of terse writing, the books total almost 1200 pages. However, if one skims over the descriptive passages, philosophical musings, tedious dialogue and Holland's reminisces of his Korean wartime experiences, this may be whittled in half.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Feast in its own right, I would say Feb. 27 2013
By John T C TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD
This is a touching and insightful story. I love deep writing and do not hesitate to show my appreciation when I come across one.This is a well written work here with tons of good characters. The prose is excellent, the dialogue flows, the narrative is effective, the plot is gripping and the style is unique and simple.There is no point going on and on. The month has been off to a good start; reading The Oaf and Feast Day of fools. This is a story that will strike a chord with its target readership and even beyond. However, I am glad I stumbled onto it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A new hero for a new time Feb. 21 2013
By SeeJ
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As character-driven narratives go (and this dominates my consumption of fiction), this is one of the best. Burke has created a flawed (like the rest of us) hero who, nonetheless perseveres, demonstrating what real courage is. I hope to see more of Hackberry Holland in my recreational reading very soon.
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