ATTENTION: If you’ve missed Burke’s latest, don’t wait any longer

This book has been out awhile, but Bob Moyer just got around to reviewing it.  He says it’s one of the best from one of our best novelists.

EVERY CLOAK ROLLED IN BLOOD. By James Lee Burke. Simon and Schuster. 278 pages. $27.

In this 13th novel of the Holland family series, novelist Aaron Holland Broussard, who lives in Montana, has recently lost a daughter. Novelist James Lee Burke, who lives in Montana, has recently lost a daughter. As he states in an afterword, Burke has written his most personal novel yet. He also claims it is his best. It is possible that the immediacy of the prose that pours off the page is indeed his best in this series, if not overall.

Still hearing Chinese bugles playing in Korea, Broussard suffers from PTSD, signs of dementia, symptoms of schizophrenia and possible hallucinations from the combination of drugs he takes. He is also assailed by young toughs who are sent to kill him, a biker gang masquerading as evangelicals, an ex-Klan leader, and a drug kingpin named Jimmy the Digger. His only help in his struggles is a female state trooper, a Native American who also happens to keep spirits trapped in her basement. Soon after meeting her, Broussard is visited by one of those non-dead from the spirit world, Maj. Eugene Baker. Baker was in charge of a massacre of Native Americans on Broussard’s property. He entreats the novelist to join him on the other side, while manifesting himself in other forms to bedevil Broussard. Fortunately, the writer is also visited and guided by his deceased daughter, who helps him fend off the major. She also advises him in his struggles with enemies from the temporal world, people who at some point in their lives “…turned off the light in their souls.” In a final conflagration centered on a well-hidden crime in this world, villains from this world and the spirit world are set upon by massacred warriors. Or is it the drugs?

Burke writes with muscle and grace. He always brings a poet’s eye to the landscape, and does it here with a poignant passage that conflates Montana and his home state of Louisiana: “The light doesn’t die in the evening or before a storm. It’s sucked into the earth and almost immediately the trees become still and the leaves turn a darker green and the fish begin softly rolling under the surface of the lakes and waterways, disappearing with no sound, leaving not so much as a wrinkle. It happens in minutes.” Page-turning action, coupled with the best prose anyone writes, makes this a must-read for Burke fans. Although readers who don’t know his work would benefit from background of the other books, they will still be taken with the writing of what many call the best novelist in America.

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