WAYFARING STRANGER by James Lee Burke was released in the U.S. on July 15, 2014 in hardcover, audio and eBook formats.
Published by Simon & Schuster, the print edition is 448 pages.
From James Lee Burke, “America’s best novelist” (The Denver Post), comes WAYFARING STRANGER: A sprawling thriller drenched with atmosphere and intrigue that takes a young boy from a chance encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to the trenches of World War II and the oil fields along the Texas-Louisiana coast.
It is 1934 and the Depression is bearing down when sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie and Clyde after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends as Weldon puts a bullet through the rear window of Clyde’s stolen automobile.
Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and his sergeant, Hershel Pine, escape certain death in the Battle of the Bulge. Weldon falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Rosita, and they return to Texas to seek their fortunes.
There, they enter the domain of jackals known as the oil business. Eventually, It will be the evil forces that lurk in peacetime America and threaten to destroy them all.
Note: A copy of the book was provided in exchange for an honest review for the blog tour.
James Lee Burke’s WAYFARING STRANGER is a richly imagined, sweeping tale that will take readers back to a time in America’s history that still retained some of its innocence. The story invites readers to follow along with Weldon Avery Holland as he struggles to hang on to who he is, his values and his beliefs through war, corruption and when faced with the depths of evil that men will go to.
From a run-in with the Barrow Gang, to the final stages of the European Theater of World War II, to the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana, Weldon Holland’s story is thrilling, suspense- and danger-filled, and will keep readers riveted. The narrative speaks of a country tainted by the fear of Communism, an elitist class of unscrupulous and unethical people envious and fearful of those not like them, and a man desperate to protect all that he has – his friends, the woman he loves, himself.
This is the first novel I’ve read by Author James Lee Burke, but it certainly won’t be the last. His writing transported me into Weldon’s world, a world that had both good and evil, darkness and light and all the varying shades of grey in between. The author painted the most incredible picture with his words. His landscape was sometimes beautiful and at others terrible, but it was so exquisitely detailed that I felt as if I was right there along with his characters as they struggled to uncover the truths about themselves, about those they want to trust, and about those they shouldn’t.
I didn’t anticipate making an emotional connection with this story or its characters. With the way the narrative was presented I expected to fall in love with the writing, the setting, the history, the epic nature of the story. But I didn’t expect it to allow for a bond with the characters or their plight. I thought I would simply be intrigued, my interest piqued with all that was happening. I knew I would be curious about who was behind it all, who was guilty, who was innocent, and whose behavior couldn’t be easily defined. I did not imagine making any connection, let alone how strong a connection I did make.
I was drawn into Weldon Holland’s story from the moment of his fascination with Bonnie Parker. But it wasn’t until he met and saved Rosita Lowenstein that I began to get to know and to like him. He proved himself to be honorable, loyal, understanding, forgiving, trusting, and good-hearted but not a push-over. He was a fighter and was not afraid to go after what he wanted. He became a character I was rooting for and hoped would triumph in the end.
There are many layers to this story that I’m still thinking about. It was a love story. It was a story about human nature. It was a story about acceptance and forgiveness, about right and wrong, about actions and consequences. It was a story about being honorable and sticking to one’s beliefs no matter how difficult. It was a story about what it means to be a hero. It was a story about redemption. And it was so much more.
I read this in one sitting and it was unputdownable. I didn’t want break away from the story, to leave the world even for a moment. But it’s a story that I will re-read and take my time with so as to be able to further explore some of those layers, to be able to follow some of the trains of thought I’d set aside in order to not distract myself from what was in front of me, and to be able to delve deeper into the many ideas the author presented.
WAYFARING STRANGER is a story that brought me to tears, made me think, took me to a world that was both exciting and horrifying, and left its mark, much like Bonnie Parker did on young Weldon Avery Holland.
It is a fascinating, beautiful, heartrending and masterfully written story that is unparalleled and absolutely unforgettable.
When reading a novel such as this, that is so richly detailed, filled with passage after passage of the most incredible imagery, it’s hard to select just one to note as a favorite. So I’ve opted to choose an early one to give just a taste.
I swore I could hear wind chimes tinkling in the trees. I wondered what her name was and what it would be like to run away with her. Even more, I wondered what it would be like to place my mouth on hers. For just a moment the world felt blown by cool breezes and was green and young again; I would have sworn the willow branches were strung with leaves that filled and fell like a woman’s hair, and there was a smell in the air like distant rain and freshly cut watermelon.
About the Author
James Lee Burke was born in Houston, Texas, in 1936 and grew up on the Texas-Louisiana gulf coast. He attended Southwestern Louisiana Institute and later received a B. A. Degree in English and an M. A. from the University of Missouri in 1958 and 1960 respectively. Over the years he worked as a landman for Sinclair Oil Company, pipeliner, land surveyor, newspaper reporter, college English professor, social worker on Skid Row in Los Angeles, clerk for the Louisiana Employment Service, and instructor in the U. S. Job Corps.
He and his wife Pearl met in graduate school and have been married 48 years, they have four children: Jim Jr., an assistant U.S. Attorney; Andree, a school psychologist; Pamala, a T. V. ad producer; and Alafair, a law professor and novelist who has 4 novels out with Henry Holt publishing.
Burke’s work has been awarded an Edgar twice for Best Crime Novel of the Year. He has also been a recipient of a Breadloaf and Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant. Two of his novels, Heaven’s Prisoners and Two For Texas, have been made into motion pictures. His short stories have been published in The Atlantic Monthly, New Stories from the South, Best American Short Stories, Antioch Review, Southern Review, and The Kenyon Review. His novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication by Louisiana State University press was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Today he and his wife live in Missoula, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana.