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From soldier to oil tycoon?

September 24, 2015

“Wayfaring Stranger” (2014) by James Lee Burke centres on Weldon Avery Holland and is a welcome addition to Burke’s stable of books, as it fills in some of the family history of his grandchildren, cousins Billy Bob and Hackberry Holland, who each have three and four books in their series respectively – one of whom lives in the same family home.

This is a lively and fascinating look at a different time and place in history, where oil fortunes were made and lost in southern USA. The story begins with a very young Weldon falling in love with Bonnie (of Bonnie and Clyde fame), when they trespass on his grandfather’s farm in an attempt to hide out from the law.

Commissioned as a second lieutenant in World War II, Weldon rescues concentration camp survivor Rosita from beneath a pile of bodies. Invalided home, Weldon is reunited with Sergeant Herschel Pine, who can smell oil in the ground – and who was so impressed with the quality of Nazi welding he saw in the war, he secures funding from oilmen to buy these machines for the pair to start their own oil company. But the sea of money is full of oil sharks, hell-bent on the destruction of little fish such as Weldon and Herschel.

Has Weldon’s grandfather raised him well enough so that his moral fortitude can withstand the onslaught, including the destruction of the woman he loves? It’s a great book, full of Burke’s wonderful poetry of the soul and the action fast-paced to keep you reading long into the wee small hours of the night.   4.5/5 (only because I get lost in the flowery prose sometimes)

James Lee BurkeNow for some interesting facts about James Lee Burke. Burke had his first book ‘The Neon Rain’ published in 1987, after much trial and error. Perseverance paid off as he won the Mystery Writers of the Year society’s ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ award for Best Novel of the Year in 1990 for ‘Black Cherry Blues’.

However, and continuing in the vein of Belinda Diepenheim encouraging other poets to get published, take heart when you learn that Burke, the best-selling author of 36 books, took five years to get his first novel, ‘Half of Paradise’, published. Then his second novel, unnamed, remains unpublished! Burke’s second published novel, ‘To the Bright and Shining Sun’ was first rejected by 14 publishing houses. But that’s not all: His fourth novel, and one I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Lost Get-Back Boogie’ was rejected 111 times and took nine years to be published.

Interested to know more about James Lee Burke? Link to an interview by John Connolly, also a best-selling novelist.



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