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Wayfaring Stranger (Hardcover)
As astonishing as it is to say so after his
illustrious career writing award-winning books, James Lee Burke’s
Wayfaring Stranger is his masterpiece.
I’ve adored the Robicheaux books for a
couple of decades now. I haven’t had much luck with his books featuring
the Holland family, though. I put off reading this new one. It features
yet another Holland and I kick myself now. I missed getting a signed
copy of what surely is the finest book of the year. Oh well – live and
Wayfaring Stranger starts out with teen-aged
Weldon Holland having a run-in with Bonnie & Clyde who have taken
to camping on his Grandfather’s land in East Texas. Grandfather is a
retired Texas Ranger and brooks no guff from anyone. Weldon’s encounter
with the outlaws, and especially “Miss Bonnie” is a formative event.
From there, we’re off to his time as an Army lieutenant in WWII and his
narrow escape during the Battle of the Bulge with his seargent, Herschel
Pine. The pair is destined for a life of trial and adventure and it
begins with them rescuing a woman from a concentration camp, Rosita
Lowenstein. She’s the only survivor of a family of Spanish Bolsheviks
and becomes Weldon’s love.
After the war, the three make their way back
to Texas, into the oil ‘bidness’ and into a battle with those who covet
what they don’t have even as they have more than most. Their
experiences with the Nazis have made them accutely aware of the danger
of powerful and ugly people and they see little difference between the
SS and the wealthy, the racist, the socially stunted, the selfish and
self-centered, and the politically cruel.They’ve danced with the devils
and will have no more of it. And that, then, makes them even more
dangerous to those who wish them harm.
“There are times in your life when you know,
without any demonstrable evidence, that you are in the presense of
genuine evil. It is not generated by demons, nor does it have its
origins in the Abyss. It lives in the breast of our fellow man and takes
on many disguises, but its intention is always the same: to rob the
innocent of their faith in humanity and to destroy the light and
happiness that all of us seek.”
Wayfaring Stranger is not a true mystery,
nor is it a true crime novel. It is more tragic noir, where the flaws of
heroes cause them problems. The flaws that cause Weldon and Herschel
and Rosita such pain are those of courage, a refusal to give in to those
who want what they don’t themselves already possess, and the inability
to allow the mean and shallow to live comfortably within their facades.
The writing is stunning, the characters human and humane, the story compelling and wholley American.
“Rosita and I stayed over an extra night and
ate in an outdoor Mexican restaurant on the River Walk, by an arched
stone bridge and a cypress tree whose leaves resembled green lace. I
paid the mariachi band twenty dollars to play ‘San Antonio Rose’ so we
could dance under a full moon to Bob Wills’s signature song in front of
the Alamo. I didn’t think those who died within the mission walls would
find us disrespectful; in fact, their voices whispered to us to
celebrate the lives that had been given us and the love we shared. They
also told us to treat the world as a grand cathedral and to give no sway
to either death of evil men who sought to spread their net over the
Just wish I’d set aside a signed copy for myself…— JB
In his most ambitious work yet, New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life--connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.
In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun and being unsure whether it hit its mark.
Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein--a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.
In just a few years' time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless, courageous act yet--one that takes its inspiration from that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth.
A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller that crosses continents and decades of American history, Wayfaring Stranger "is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream" (Benjamin Percy, Poets & Writers).