Rain Gods (Book Review)

Rain Gods  by James Lee Burke

In his afterword to this book, James Lee Burke states, ‘I think this is my best novel…’ Strong words indeed from an author who has a back-catalogue that is the envy of writers everywhere.

Published in 2009, Rain Gods centres upon the aged figure of Hackberry Holland, a sheriff in a rural Texas backwater. Hackberry (who may or may not have a cousin called Huckleberry and hopefully doesn’t have one called Dingleberry) receives an anonymous tip regarding shots fired at a derelict church. When he investigates, Holland discovers the buried bodies of nine women, at least one of whom is a minor. With his fiercely loyal deputy, Pam Tibbs, who also just so happens to have a raging hard-on for the much older Sheriff, Hack begins a complex inquiry into who the slain women are and who took their lives in such brutal fashion.

Pete Flores and his beautiful and talented girlfriend, Vikki Gaddis, may have information that would be of assistance to Hackberry, but that same information may also get them killed by those responsible. As the couple try to flee the area, they find themselves pursued by some very mean hombres, in the shape of Hugh Cistranos, Bobby Lee Motree and Liam Eriksson, who are in the employ of the nasty gangster, Artie Rooney.

It is in the company of these men that the reader is introduced to the enigmatic Preacher, yet another of Burke’s great psychopathic and complex villains. The Preacher works for no one but himself as a contract killer of some renown, but with an accompanying weird understanding of biblical teachings which he uses to justify his outrages.

To compound matters for the hapless Pete and Vikki, they are also in the firing line of the violent rogue ICE agent, Isaac Clawson, who is hell-bent on attaining vengeance against all criminals after the vicious murder of his daughter many years previously. Poor Pete and Viki.

Still, Hackberry is hoping to get to the loved-up pair before any of the aforementioned lunatics. Yet his investigation turn into a game of cat and mouse with the Preacher, as the body-count climbs higher. The Preacher has somehow, during his iniquitous activities, managed to develop a fixation for Vikki, who bested him in an earlier encounter. He also forms an obsession with the unfortunate Esther, wife to Nick Dolan, a small time criminal with possible connections to the massacre of the women. The Preacher is one messed up killer, just the sort of unpredictable head-the-ball that you don’t want to meet, should you ever have a choice of the type of ruthless killer that you must encounter.

The pace of Rain Gods is perfectly measured. As always, the settings are beautifully depicted. Burke paints a vivid and glorious picture of the stark landscape through which the plot twists and turns. The character list is impressive. The author has a knack for creating memorable personalities in abundance, page after page, all of them well-served by a cracking story-line.

As is usual with Burke’s books, Rain Gods is consistent throughout. Personally, I don’t agree that this is his best book (up til it’s release date), as there are others that would surely contest and outshine Rain Gods. But, given the high standards of Burke’s writing, it’s no shame not to be labelled his best by any reader.

James Lee Burke is a philosopher, a sociologist, a historian and a poet who has chosen to write very good novels. He has stated that Rain Gods was written as an allegory based upon the biblical stories of Elijah and Esther, of which Rebel Voice is au fait with neither. It is therefore a multi-faceted tale, if one chooses to go into those depths, yet on the more superficial level, it is still a great read.

A recurring theme of Burke’s novels, already highlighted by Rebel Voice, is that of the long-suffering war veteran, and Hackberry Holland is no exception having been interned as a POW during the Korean war. Burke obviously feels strongly about the psychological hardships endured by those who were forced, or suckered, into fighting foreign wars on behalf of corporate enterprise. Rebel Voice commends Mr Burke’s position.

Rain Gods may have a sequel. If so, it will be a great one. A solid foundation has been laid, although given Hack’s advanced years and the time period since its release, the Sheriff would now be pushing eighty. It could be a kind of Burkesque take on Gran Torino, so worth looking forward to then. Rain Gods is a highly entertaining book that should engage even the most reluctant of readers. In short, it is typically brilliant James Lee Burke. With this in mind, I will leave the last word with James Lee who has stated – in his afterword to Rain Gods – that the story is about:

‘the hijacking of Christianity by corporate elements in the USA. In the last eight years, men of evil intent, at least in my mind, used the tragedy of 9/11 to carry out a neo-colonial policy directly related to the central issues of two great wars, namely, the control of energy and natural resources.’

Sult scale rating: 8.5 out of 10. A highly recommended read for all lovers of good thrillers, romance, and books that can make you think. Never mind the allegory, it’s a great read no matter what.

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