Simon & Schuster, $26.00, 463 pages, ISBN 978-1-4516-4311-4
Every fiction writer who’s ever lived strives to create an alternate universe so compelling that the reader gets lost in it on the first page, and doesn’t emerge until the very last word is read. Then, you know you’ve had a good, and enjoyable, reading experience. But, when the writing is so well done, and the alternate universe is so intense, so real, that the characters seem like old friends; when you become so invested in the story you don’t want it to end . . . then you’re reading a great book . . . written by a master of the craft at the top of their game. This week’s MBR No. 32 will review such a novel, by just such an author. He’s a man The Denver Post named “America’s Best Novelist.” A man who’s been called a genius, named a grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America, received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, as well as numerous other awards, grants and accolades. He’s the author I personally admire the most; one whose books I’ve not only read, I’ve read many of them twice . . . the highest praise I can think of. His name is James Lee Burke, and his newest novel is Feast Day of Fools. It’s arguably his best one to date. In it, small town sheriff Hackberry Holland patrols a large area along the Texas-Mexico border He’s an anachronism, a throwback to an earlier time, and an honorable older man who’s scourging himself in the present for his actions as a dishonorable younger man; a man haunted in the present by the ghosts of his past. His adversaries include a Russian crime oligarch, drug smuggling Mexican cartels, a crazed mestezo assassin who’s carrying around a wooden box containing the remains of his dead children, killed in a nameless Central-American war by US helicopter gunships, and a messianic serial killer: Preacher Jack Collins, a sociopathic murderer toting a Thompson submachine gun. The novel is allegorical in nature, addressing some of the most controversial and divisive issues of our time; illegal immigration, governmental authority, drugs and religious differences to mention but a few. Burke’s style is lyrical, and his characters are some of the most complex, tragic and flawed you’ll ever encounter. He’ll keep you reading far into the night and examining your moral values long after you’ve finished the book. Feast Day of Fools may be his best ever. A gem from my favorite author and one of my selections for Best Book of the Year, 2011.