Sunday, November 8, 2009

Rain Gods

James Lee Burke

I am attracted to James Lee Burke's characters despite their dark nature. Each of his protagonists is a veteran, scarred by his experience in war. Private detective Dave Robicheaux and lawyer Billy Bob Holland in Vietnam. In Rain Gods Burke introduces Sheriff Hackberry Holland a 74 year old former prisoner of war in Korea and young Pete Flores, severely burned in an attack on his tank in Baghdad. Once again Burke's characters are be alcoholics, either active drinkers or recovering ones in AA, although God only knows what their higher power might be.

Burke holds his fictional universe together, bringing some New Orleans organized crime figures to Texas, displaced by hurricane Katrina. He adds a truly evil caricature of a Russian mobster, a motley collection of colorful freelance killers for hire, a young beautiful folksinger and a female deputy who rubs up against the elderly sheriff to add another complication to his life.

The freelancers, working for the Russian, in the first of a series of odd and comical mistakes, hire the unemployed Pete Flores, for $300, to drive a truck containing a group of smuggled illegal aliens, who are hiding balloons of uncut heroin in their stomachs. When the balloons begin to leak and cause a medical emergency, inconvenience and loss of the Russian's product, solve their problem by shooting all of them and burying them, using a bulldozer, in a remote corner of Hack Hollands county - for storage. Pete, after getting drunk on bootleg mescal, makes an anonymous call to the Sheriff, setting the course of the bloody adventure.

Burke attempted to create a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil, creating a Character, Preacher Jack Collins, who believes himself to be living an old testament life, one of cosmic importance and who kills on impulse, justifying himself in the name of his vengeful God. Sheriff Holland is set against him, showing compassion for the weak, being kind to animals and resisting temptation, provided by his deputy, all while feeling sinful and unworthy right up to the final confrontation where Collins is defeated but vanishes without a trace. It feels more than a bit contrived, which, of course, it is.


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