Monday, November 30, 2015

House of the Rising Sun

Hackberry Holland is a man within whom the forces of good and evil are constantly battling. On the one hand, Hack is a good man who always strives to do right by his fellow man.  On the other, he is a man who, despite all his innate kindness, sometimes loses control in the heat of a moment and does some very bad things.  His life is now filled with so much regret that Hack has come to believe that it is his personal failings that best define him. 

His friends (many of them ex-Texas Rangers like Hack) and family have all been tested at one time or another by Hack’s rash behavior.  Some of them feel as if they have been trying to save Hack from himself forever – but they still come running, albeit reluctantly, when the man needs help.  And right now Hack needs every bit of help he can round up because he has stirred the wrath of a man who will stop at absolutely nothing to retrieve the jeweled cup that Hack has taken from him.

Austrian Arnold Beckman is Hackberry Holland’s opposite.  Hack is a well-intentioned man whose mistakes, when they cause injury to innocents, keep him from sleeping at night.  Beckman is a man who not only does not worry about injuring those weaker than himself, he takes great delight in doing so in ways that will inflict the worst psychological damage and physical pain imaginable upon his victims.  This may not a fight that he ever meant to pick, but after Beckman involves Hack’s estranged son in the battle to regain the lost cup, Hack knows it is one that will have to be fought all the way to its bloody conclusion – whatever that turns out to be.

House of the Rising Sun is a rousing adventure set during that period of Texas and U.S. history during which the ways of the Old West are being replaced by more “modern” ways of doing things.  World War I is over and Americans are confident that the War to End All Wars has done exactly that.  Never again will young men be sacrificed to save the world from itself.  Unfortunately, everyone fails to account for the existence of men like Arnold Beckman.  But there are, thankfully, still a few throwbacks around like Hackberry Holland who recognize Evil when they see it and are willing to fight it to the death.

Author James Lee Burke
The greatest strength of any James Lee Burke novel, and House of the Rising Sun is no exception, comes not from the first rate thriller that the man writes but from the emotional depth of the characters with which he populates those thrillers.  Hackberry Holland is a man very much in the mold of Burke’s best-known character Dave Robicheaux.  Like Robicheaux, Hack is filled with self-awareness and regrets; he is a man who will one day look back at his life and judge himself more harshly than even his meanest critics would ever dare.  James Lee Burke understands human nature as well as anyone writing today, and he paints a setting as vividly as any artist ever painted one.  He is a true master of his craft.

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