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'Rain Gods' Find Mystery Writer In New Territory

Aug 10, 2009 (Morning Edition)

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Best known for his series of mystery novels about Louisiana cop Dave Robicheaux, crime writer James Lee Burke moves westward in his latest novel, Rain Gods, to the dry landscape of Texas.

Burke's protagonist, a 70-year-old widower and reformed drunk named Hackberry Holland, is a character the author introduced in his 1971 book Lay Down My Sword and Shield.

Burke tells Linda Wertheimer that he wrote the new novel because he felt he "owed Hackberry an amends. ... His story wasn't quite over yet."

Hackberry belongs to a family, which — though fictional — is based closely on the author's own. The novel is set in the present and "deals with the violence that is ongoing on the Texas-New Mexican-Mexico frontier," Burke says.

Opposite Hackberry is a psychopathic religious demagogue named Preacher Jack Collins, who Burke describes as "the most intriguing antagonist or villain I think I've written about."

For Burke, wide Texas vistas were the ideal setting for a story of atavistic violence.

"There's something about the American Southwest that's enchanting. It's magical. It's the correspondent of the Mideast, and it's almost Biblical, the landscape is," Burke says. "It's the perfect place to use as the backdrop for a Biblical story."

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