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My husband LOVES James Lee Burke’s books (particularly the Dave Robichauex series)…and, I admit that over the years I have tried (without success) to develop an appreciation for them. The House of the Rising Sun, while not a Robichauex, stars another of Burke’s well-known protagonists: Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland. I gamely jumped in, with an open mind, ready to discover (if nothing else) what it was about this author’s books that kept me from appreciating his work.

The book opens in revolutionary Mexico in the early 20th century. Following a violent encounter leaving several Mexican soldiers dead, Hackberry escapes and takes along an artifact (possibly the Holy Grail), which totally annoys an Austrian arms dealer. This complicates things, as Hackberry is in search of his son Ishmael, a captain in the U.S. Army, and the arms merchant involves Ishmael in his plot to recapture the coveted artifact.

Along the way, scenes unfold in brothels and bars in San Antonio (during the time of the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang).

I admit, I skimmed quite a bit of the book, finding the action nearly comic book in its presentation, and I didn’t really care for Hackberry (or really any of the characters). I figured the only way to review this one was to sit and talk to my husband, who really enjoyed it. Apparently, Hackberry has much in common with other Burke protagonists:

  • he is a driven man, haunted by deaths for which he was responsible.
  • he is a raging alcoholic, alternating between sobriety and major binge episodes
  • he is verbally a wise-ass, and gets away with insulting and publically humiliating powerful people
  • he literally sees red when overtaken by his anger, and the result is an out-of-control violent outburst

(What’s not to like, right?)

Hackberry’s behavior reflects the above characteristics, and we see him interact with significant female characters that aid him in his quest for reconciliation with Ishmael:

  • Ruby Dansen, Ishmael’s mother and apparently Hackberry’s one true love
  • Beatrice DeMolay, a madam in a bordello
  • Maggie Bassett, former lover of the Sundance Kid

Perhaps if I had tried harder to understand the character of Hackberry rather than just reacting to his behavior with my own personal biases, I might have liked it more. I APPRECIATE it, and am grateful that I had the opportunity to read an advance copy, thanks to NetGalley. I will always buy Burke’s books and recommend them to people I know will appreciate them – they just aren’t my thing.

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