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Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: 'Lay Down My Sword and Shield'

February 2010
Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster) (reprint edition)
ISBN: 978-1-4391-6545-4

Hackberry Holland came on the literary landscape in 1971, talking about the bullet holes in his porch left by John Wesley Hardin when the outlaw confronted Hack's grandfather before relating how, as an up-and-coming politician, he ended up far from the corridors of power.

In 2009, Hack was seen again in Burke's brilliant Rain Gods. Now, Hack's introduction, Lay Down My Sword and Shield, has been reprinted.

Son of a congressman, Hack is on the verge of becoming one himself. All he has to do is live through endless cocktail parties, meetings with donors and pretending to be happily married to his ice queen wife. Anyone who survived being a Korean prisoner of war should be able to put up with a few wealthy Texas housewives and a senator, right? Instead, Hack is drinking himself into oblivion.

When an Army buddy calls from jail after being arrested for walking a picket line with Mexican workers near the border, Hack hightails it to help. It's the end of his old life and the beginning of his new one.

This isn't just Hack's story. Burke uses his questing, honest hero not only to show Hack's personal journey to make his life meaningful. He also shows what it meant when the song would soon be "The Times They Are A'Changin' ". Whether it's non-white people trying to make the American dream come true, whites who brutally try to stop time's progress or an opportunistic politician and someone who scares even him, Hack crosses their paths.

Their combined stories provide a fascinating and important glimpse into what life was like for some people during the '60s. Lay Down My Sword and Shield is a stirring remembrance of a time when people's actions made profound impacts. That Burke brought Hack back in Rain Gods only makes the original story, and its message, more powerful.

Those who have read Rain Gods will want to see where Hack came from, while those who are introduced to him through this first novel will want to pick up the later book right away. Even though they are set decades apart, they are connected by a character who remained true to himself throughout the years. That's the kind of power James Lee Burke brings to his stories.

© 2010 All Rights Reserved Reviews at CompuServe Books and reprinted with permission

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