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Rain Gods    by James Lee Burke order for
Rain Gods
by James Lee Burke
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

The name James Lee Burke on a novel always brings joy to my life. He writes crime stories with the heart of a poet. Somehow I missed Rain Gods when it was first released in 2009. I have now made up for that omission. As I expected, I enjoyed not every page but every word.

Don't just skim through this novel. Take time to reflect on the words of wisdom that are before your eyes. Burke's handle on the human condition deserves a pause to cogitate on his views and to see how they mesh with your own. An intelligent and gentle man.

On to the plot. Hackberry Holland becomes the sheriff of a tiny Texas border town after the death of his wife Rie. The discovery of nine illegal aliens' machine-gunned bodies leads him into troubles he had hoped to never have to address. He, unfortunately, also suffers from flashbacks to his prisoner-of-war days as well as to the loss of his wife.

Deputy Sheriff Pam Tibbs backs him up in his encounters with the bad guys and they almost take turns saving each other's lives. Literally. Pam seems to have set her plans for the future, weaving Hack into them. But it would be a May/December mating and he wants none of it.

A man who calls himself Preacher has not a religious bone in his body and lives life without regard for anyone else. He can be as vicious as a rattler but as forgiving as a doting father. He is mixed in with coyotes, drug dealers, hit men and unscrupulous business men. Trouble seems to be his middle name. Hack is out to apprehend him and save the lives of two young people who inadvertently crossed Preacher's path.

Burke's characterizations are of people who could be your next door neighbors or the wanted criminal on the front page of your newspaper. I especially liked Nick Dolan, with his entrepreneurial enterprises (both legal and not so legal), who strikes back when his wife is kidnapped. Nolan is an ineffectual little man who nevertheless has been successful at his enterprises. But, boy, don't cross him. He is willing to trade his life for his wife's.

What stands out especially for me is Burke's descriptive skill in picking up his reader and placing him or her in the scene. You can almost smell the cook fires burning and watch leaves falling from trees, preparing for a change in weather - or marvel at soaring birds riding the winds. This is where the author allows us into his soul for a page or two at a time.

Rain Gods has a wonderfully convoluted plot and Burke pulls all the loose strings together to finish this highly entertaining novel. Don't miss it or any of his works.

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