“Feast Day of Fools” by James Lee Burke

You’re better off on your own.

You’ve got a big project and that’s the conclusion you’ve come to. Sure, you’re prepared: you’ve studied it over, asked the professionals, and searched the internet. You’ve also gathered plenty of (unsolicited) advice and (un)helpful hints and, though things might get messy, you’re finally ready to start.

By yourself.

The same goes for Sheriff Hackberry Holland. A deranged genius has shown up in his county again but the FBI, the DEA, nobody’s interested in helping. In the new book “Feast Day of Fools” by James Lee Burke, Holland knows he’s on his own.

The Mexican picked the wrong man to be tethered to.

They had become separated, the two men, on their way through the desert to freedom. The guy at the other end of the busted handcuffs, Noie Barnum, was a Quaker pacifist with government secrets in his head and atonement in his heart. But the Mexican didn’t know that, and it got him torn apart.

After Danny Boy Lorca heard the body being scattered across the southwest Texas desert, he slithered to the county jail to tell Sheriff Hackberry Holland. Danny Boy was prone to whiskey-fueled visions, but Holland knew that the Mexican’s death didn’t come from a bottle.

Anton Ling had given Noie Barnum succor on his way through the desert – just like she gave to the illegal immigrants streaming past her shack. Ling had done a lot in her past to hurt her fellow man. Now it was time to do some good.

The man called Krill wanted Noie Barnum in order to settle a score. It was Krill who tore the Mexican apart, but torture did no good. Krill wasn’t any closer to catching Barnum, which meant that he was no closer to turning Barnum over to Josef Sholokoff, who didn’t want Barnum, so much as he wanted what Barnum knew.

But Barnum was safe, hiding with Preacher Jack Collins, a ruthless killer who was well-known to southeast Texas , Sheriff Holland, and an oddly disinterested FBI. Collins knew who was chasing after Noie Barnum, and he knew why. He just had to figure out what to do about it…

Reading “Feast Day of Fools” is an experience in yin and yang. It’s a beautiful poem shot full of lead. It’s like a picture postcard slashed with a bloody knife. It’s heartbreakingly gorgeous and sandpaper-harsh, both at the same time.

Author James Lee Burke’s new lawman, Hackberry Holland is an underemployed, aging man with a past, part of which he can barely discuss and all of which comes back to haunt him daily. I liked this flawed new sheriff, and I liked the large cast of good guys and bad guys that surround him– mostly because the line between good and bad changes often in this fine novel.

This is a heart-thumper, but beware that some of the scenes ain’t purdy. If you can handle that and you’re up for a wild ride through the sagebrush, then, “Feast Day of Fools” is a book to own.