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Hackberry Holland #4

House of the Rising Sun

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New York Times bestseller James Lee Burke returns with his latest masterpiece, the story of a father and son separated by war and circumstance-and whose encounter with the legendary Holy Grail will change their lives forever.

From its opening scene in revolutionary Mexico to the Battle of the Marne in 1918, and on to the bordellos and saloons of San Antonio during the reign of the Hole in the Wall Gang, House of the Rising Sun is an epic tale of love, loss, betrayal, vengeance and retribution that follows Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland on his journey to reunite with his estranged son, Ishmael, a captain in the United States Army.

After a violent encounter that leaves four Mexican soldiers dead, Hackberry escapes the country in possession of a stolen artifact, earning the ire of a bloodthirsty Austrian arms dealer who then places Hack’s son Ishmael squarely in the cross hairs of a plot to recapture his prize, believed to be the mythic cup of Christ.

Along the way, we meet three extraordinary women: Ruby Dansen, the Danish immigrant who is Ishmael’s mother and Hackberry’s one true love; Beatrice DeMolay, a brothel madam descended from the crusader knight who brought the shroud of Turin back from the Holy Land; and Maggie Bassett, one-time lover of the Sundance Kid, whose wiles rival those of Lady Macbeth. In her own way, each woman will aid Hackberry in his quest to reconcile with Ishmael, to vanquish their enemies, and to return the Grail to its rightful place.

House of the Rising Sun is James Lee Burke’s finest novel to date, and a thrilling entry into the Holland family saga that continued most recently with Wayfaring Stranger, which the New York Times Book Review described as “saturated with the romance of the past while mournfully attuned to the unholy menace of the present.”

435 pages, Hardcover

First published December 1, 2015

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About the author

James Lee Burke

173 books3,527 followers
James Lee Burke is an American author best known for his mysteries, particularly the Dave Robicheaux series. He has twice received the Edgar Award for Best Novel, for Black Cherry Blues in 1990 and Cimarron Rose in 1998.

Burke was born in Houston, Texas, but grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast. He attended the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the University of Missouri, receiving a BA and MA from the latter. He has worked at a wide variety of jobs over the years, including working in the oil industry, as a reporter, and as a social worker. He was Writer in Residence at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, succeeding his good friend and posthumous Pulitzer Prize winner John Kennedy Toole, and preceding Ernest Gaines in the position. Shortly before his move to Montana, he taught for several years in the Creative Writing program at Wichita State University in the 1980s.

Burke and his wife, Pearl, split their time between Lolo, Montana, and New Iberia, Louisiana. Their daughter, Alafair Burke, is also a mystery novelist.

The book that has influenced his life the most is the 1929 family tragedy "The Sound and the Fury" by William Faulkner.

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5 stars
1,265 (32%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 566 reviews
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,052 reviews578 followers
August 13, 2022
No bones about it, JLB is my favourite writer of crime fiction. Correction, he’s my favourite writer – period!

In this latest episode in the saga of the Holland family we go back in time to catch up with Hackberry Holland, a Texas Ranger battling with Pancho Villa’s revolutionary force. We switch to the trenches of Marne as Holland’s estranged son, Ishmael, a captain in the United States Army, fights to stay alive as the WWI draws to it’s conclusion. And then back to Texas where Holland is now trying to stitch his life together and to track down Ishmael. There are references to some famous real life outlaws sprinkled throughout the text - John Wesley Hardin, Harry Longabaugh (The Sundance Kid) and his friend, Butch Cassidy – and the not inconsequential matter of a goblet purported to be the Holy Grail itself, which finds itself in Holland’s possession. An arms dealer – the baddest of the bad – is desperate to rid Holland of the ancient artefact. It’s a full-on ride right through to the inevitable, frenzied dénouement.

The characters are expertly drawn by Burke and he paints vivid, cinematic pictures that bring the scenes and the places startlingly to life. Holland himself it a big character (in every sense): he’s well over six and a half feet tall, his attitude is belligerent and aggressive and his actions are violent and unsentimental. Well, this is a JLB novel! Yes, Burke has a very distinct style - I’d wager I’d spot a sentence of his if it were written on a tomato sauce label. His words are often somewhat obscure and his sentiments are often blunt and harsh. Confrontation is a way of life. He’s likely to finish just about any encounter with a statement that feels like a slap in the face.

And whilst we’re on this point there are a number of other givens:

1. The lead character is a tortured soul, trying to control his heavy drinking and prone to the ‘red mist’ descending with resultant bouts of brutality towards his fellow man.
2. The women (three of them in this book) are beautiful and strong and perfectly able to stand toe to toe with the toughest of the men.
3. The baddie is articulate, visually striking and absolutely rotten to the core.

The story is as cohesive as JLB ever makes it. I sometimes feel that reading one of his books is like watching a film through a pane of slightly smokey glass: I think I know what’s going on but I’m not entirely sure. But here we have a tale that demands to be read quickly to gobble up the action but one that deserves to be read slowly to savour the pure class of the prose.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster and NetGalley for supplying a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jen CAN.
487 reviews1,360 followers
March 7, 2016
James lee Burke where have you been all my reading life?? I'm stunned we haven't been introduced before reading this magnificent book.

It's the turn of the 20th century and Hackberry is on the search for his son who is serving in the military but has now been kidnapped. He wants to make amends for a life where he was absent. He's an unstable, violent and dark man, who takes to the drink frequently.
This has a deeply western get in your face feel with gunslinging bad guys, whore houses, crooked characters, lots of action and a golden goblet. The main character is a bad guy whom we have to love as he realizes the error of his ways on his path to redemption. He is an enigma - contradictory actions where he violently kills and other times, rescues. Trying to right the wrong. What I love about this character is he does what he wants and doesn’t care what others think. A give you the finger kind of gesture where morality trumps societal norms.

I knew I was going to love this: 1) it's an amazing song 2) the writing is powerfully descriptive 3) Expanded my vocabulary as he uses really ‘big’ words 4) rave reviews from Andrew, Angela and Diane my GR friends who introduced us

I’m excited to know there is a prequel to this book but this is definitely a standalone. Overall, 4.5★
Another interesting footnote, Burke resides in Missoula which is the name and location of the last book I read by Krakauer. Interesting.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,737 reviews14.1k followers
January 15, 2022
We are literally dropped into Mexico and a bordello of the title name. Hack is looking for his son Ishmael, a son he hasn't seen since he was a child, but had recently been the commander of a Negro troop in revolutionary Mexico. That visit to the bordello and his theft of an artifact from a cruel arms dealer will change his life for the foreseeable future.

Hack is a study in contradictions, a man who regrets actions he cannot change but who is unable to let an injustice go unpunished. He is at times a heavy drinker, in many ways his own worst enemy. At war with himself he attempts to mesh his innate goodness, with the violent acts he commits and cannot seem to escape. He has few friends and not many left who love him. Yet, finding his son is his main concern in an attempt to pay retribution for past neglect. I adore this crazy mixed up man.

Three woman, woman whose strength and fortitude are unusual in these times. None from easy beginnings or enviable pasts, they live life in their own way and take advantage of those that consider them the weaker sex. Love them or hate them, they are brilliant characters and each interact with Hack in different ways.

One funny moment finds Hack, with a black man who may or may not have been a voodoo priest in Haiti, trying to learn to drive a stick shift. It does not end particular well but is a brief interlude of fun in an otherwise quite violent story. Burke is brilliant, his characters irreplaceable and his story not for the faint of heart. He is in a word, amazing.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,346 reviews4,863 followers
March 14, 2023

In this 4th book in the 'Hackberry Holland' series, Hackberry tries to help the grown son he abandoned as a child. The book can be read as a standalone.


Hackberry Holland, former Texas Ranger and lawman, seems to find trouble wherever he goes. He runs his mouth, gets blackout drunk, and is quick to use his guns and fists.

As the story opens, it's 1916 and Hackberry (Hack) is in Mexico searching for his estranged son Ishmael - a captain in the U.S Army.

The Mexican Revolution is ongoing, and there have been sporadic hostilities between the U.S. and Mexico. Hack comes upon a brothel called 'The House of the Rising Sun', where thuggish Mexican troops are guarding a hearse.

The Mexicans are furious about Texas Rangers shooting up a train full of civilians, so they grab Hack, torture him, lock him up, and plan to kill him.

Hack is freed by the brothel's owner, Beatrice DeMolay - a madam and shrewd businesswoman - who gives him a couple of guns. Hack kills four Mexican soldiers and searches the hearse, which contains a large cache of weapons, money, and a bejewelled double chalice. Hack takes the money and chalice, blows up the weapons in the hearse, and heads for his home in Texas.

Unfortunately for Hack, the hearse - and its contents - belonged to an Austrian arms dealer named Arnold Beckman, a sadistic sociopath who claims the chalice is the Holy Grail - and who'll do anything to get it back.

In flashbacks to the past, Hack meets Ruby Dansen, a beautiful Danish woman who's down on her luck. Hack and Ruby have a son - Ishmael - but can't marry because Hack never bothered to divorce his previous wife, Maggie Bassett. All this leads to a world of trouble.

Hack's drinking and trouble-making drive Ruby and Ishmael away, and Maggie - who was a schoolteacher turned prostitute - swoops back into Hack's life. At one point Hack tries to make up with Ruby, but things go wrong and Ruby and young Ishmael are left poor, on their own, and very resentful of Hack.

For her part, Maggie eventually divorces Hack, taking half of everything he owns.

Back in the present, a grown up Ishmael is sent to Europe during WWI, and is badly injured at the Battle of the Marne in 1918. Ishmael ends up in a San Antonio hospital, on the long road to recovery.

Hack, who claims that he always loved the boy, writes Ishmael letters.....but the lad won't even open them. By now Ruby is a socialist firebrand and union organizer. She wants to take care of Ishmael, but runs into tough interference.

During all this, Beckman has been trailing Hack and scheming to get his hands on the chalice. The Austrian - being rich, powerful, and evil - has spies everywhere, co-opts law enforcement, hires murderous punks, and even makes an arrangement with Maggie - who's almost unbelievably devious and amoral.

Sadly for Ishmael, he becomes a pawn in the duel between Hack and Beckman - with terrible consequences all around. As events play out, Maggie, Ruby, and Beatrice all play important parts in the story.....but I don't want to give too much away.

The book has deep, compelling characters and rich, evocative scenes that draw the reader in. Like many of Burke's books, the story involves a struggle between 'good' and 'evil' and - while Beckman is a wonderfully despicable villain - Hack is something of a 'flawed hero.' He administers frontier justice and treats women in a less than noble fashion. Furthermore - in one scene - Hack gets behind the wheel of a friend's car (which he doesn't know how to drive), purposely wrecks it, and leaves the black chauffeur to deal with racist authorities. I can't fathom this behavior.

The book has elements of magical realism: Ishmael and Hack have a channel of communication through visions and dreams and Beatrice's chauffeur, André - a former voodoo priest - also has spiritual abilities.

All this adds an intriguing element to the story. My biggest criticism of the book is probably that the climax is unnecessarily long and drawn out. This is a minor quibble though.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it - especially to fans of James Lee Burke.

You can follow my reviews at http://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot.com/
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,286 reviews2,205 followers
December 8, 2015
4+ stars .

This is my first James Lee Burke book . I guess I never read him before since he's known for his crime and mystery books and I don't typically read them . I don't really enjoy books with a lot of violence . Having said that , it was a way of life at various times in history - the wars, the pioneer days , the wild west and in this case , Mexico during the time if Poncho Villa and Texas in the early 1900's . To understand those times and the history, reading a book like this can be a true view into them. In addition, along came two five star glowing , actually gushing reviews by two GR friends (Andrew and Diane) in two days so I had to read it . I'm glad I did because this story is about more than the violence. It's about a man seemingly one faceted at first , with a penchant for violence, but soon enough I learned just how complex this character named Hackberry Holland really was. (I haven't loved a character's name so much since Axie Muldoon from My Notorious Life . These are very different books but the title would have held true here too and the only similarity is my feeling for their names.)

Who is this man? One minute he's killing and the next he's saving people. A flawed man , a drinker with violent tendencies, but with a conscience and a deep love for a son he feels he has wronged . Looking for his son , Ishmael, an officer in the US army to make amends , to tell him he loves him is what this story is about . But so much gets in the way while Hackberry is searching for his son . Some really bad characters wreak havoc with his conscience and his mission. The women in his life , as tough and smart as any man here, also wreak havoc with his conscience and his life . But his desire to find his son and make amends for his mistakes weighs most heavily on him as does the accident that happened on a train.

I have to admit there were a number of times when I wondered why I was continuing with this but then I remembered how I was immediately wowed by the descriptive writing from the first long sentence which take you exactly where Hackberry Holland is . You can see it clearly . The descriptions of the landscape of Mexico are truly amazing. I'd reread a sentence like this from early on in the book:

"The sun had just crested on the horizon like a misplaced planet, swollen and molten with red, lighting a landscape that seemed sculpted out of clay and soft stone and marked by the fossilized tracks of animals with no names , when a tall barefoot man wearing little more than rags dropped his horses' reins and eased himself off the horse's back and worked his way down an embankment into a riverbed chained with pools of water that glimmered as brightly as blood in the sunrise. The sand was the color of cinnamon and spiked with green grass and felt cool on his feet........"

I would know that I had to finish it . I also had to know what would happen with the chalice believed to be "the holy grail" that he stole from Arnold Beckman , the Austrian arms dealer and whether he would ever see his son again .

As an aside I also want to mention that my vocabulary has been expanded and it was great to read this on my kindle so I could immediately look up definitions of sybaritic, solipsistic and vacuity among other words . I also can't get the tune out of my head about that place in New Orleans , the song that shares the book title .

I recommend this , of course , and recognize that it may not be for everyone but if you think you can handle it , it's worth reading .

Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
617 reviews338 followers
January 28, 2016

“Goodbye Mr. Holland. You never fail to distinguish yourself. I thought I had met every kind of man. I didn’t realize how vain I was.”

I’m thinking James Lee Burke is a man’s man, or more pertinent, a woman’s man. This was my first time with him and it won’t be the last. I think I'm in love. Not a book for those with a delicate constitution and I loved every hard core moment with it. Thanks to friends Angela, Jen, and Diane for their reviews pointing the way to this one. Such fascinating story telling and top notch writing. Hit repeat.

I picture a younger Tommy Lee Jones, Robert Duval, or perhaps James Brolin as Hackberry Holland, who gets my vote for the most interesting and complicated hero in quite some time. He lives and breathes in black and white.

"There was no war he did not like, no cheap idea he did not support, no uncharitable, self-righteous cause aimed at the defenseless that he did not make his own. In moments like these, Hackberry sometimes wondered why anyone should object to a three day open season on people in order to clean up most of the world's problems.”

Extra credit here for a male author creating three strong female characters vividly suppressing stereotypical sideline players. Oh Ruby! No one has ever used an iron skillet with such righteous passion while calling someone Buster Browne; and the hat pin move; hot damn!
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews393 followers
May 10, 2016
Oh, James.

You and I have been have been exchanging glances for quite some time now. And you’ve been trying to get my attention through my friends. After your date with Jen, she wondered where you’d been all her life. Diane said you were “amazing.” After your first time with Cathrine she said, “Hot damn… I think I’m in love.” I was intrigued.

We were still beating around the bush with each other, though, until you invited yourself into my home (via a winning entry in a GoodReads Giveaway). Bold move, Mr. Burke. You made it very clear you wanted my attention. Still, I like to play a little hard-to-get, and I let you sweat it out for a bit on the shelf until the time was right.

Maybe it was nerves, or too much anticipation, or that I’m still harboring a crush for
Anthony Marra, but I didn’t experience fireworks on our first date. It could be that you took me to a place I don’t really enjoy (Mexico and Texas in the early 1900’s) and kept talking about the Holy Grail long after I lost interest.

Still, there’s something about your style I like, and you do have a way with women (you know we’re as tough as or tougher than men, and we don’t want to read about shrinking violets). I also *love* your tenacity. My favorite part of our time together is learning that your novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of 9 years, and then, upon its publication, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I made sure to show that story to my daughters.

I gave you my number, and will definitely go on a second date. In fact, I’m already looking forward to The Jealous Kind: A Novel.

3.5 stars

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and GoodReads for providing this book as part of a giveaway.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,492 reviews9 followers
May 18, 2016
I love when an author has the ability to convey the dregs of society, the dark and the dirty; and then in the next sentence he describes in lovely prose the way the leaves on the trees reflect sunlight in just such a way, or the color of the clouds in the sky, or shares his thoughts on the beauty of a woman. It just makes me happy to go along from chapter to chapter, no matter how disgusting certain characters are. When one woman said to her stepson, "I'll be your mother and your lover and your sister and all things to you," and then acted upon it, I knew what I was in for. "Some might call you an unusual lady...." was the response. I'd call this an unusual, unique book, and one that might not appeal to all. Especially if you're female. But let me point out that the females in the book are the most intelligent and most interesting players of all. Sort of like real life. :)

Well Hackberry Holland is pretty appealing too. I will read more in this series, happily.
Profile Image for Char.
1,635 reviews1,487 followers
June 3, 2016
The reason I decided to read this book was because of the narrator, Will Patton. I will happily listen to him narrate anything and this audiobook was available to download at my library. Unfortunately, I did NOT realize that it was the 4th book in a series at the time, but I don't think I missed out on much. However, I am hoping that Will Patton narrates the rest of the them and if so I will be downloading those as well!

This is a western that takes place around the late 1800's up to around 1918. We move around from Mexico, to Texas and to San Antonio. Hackberry Holland is not the greatest of men, but somehow the reader comes to care for him and his twisted sense of morality. The women in this book just about stole the show. From Maggie, Hackberry's super-devious wife, to Ruby, (his mistress) and the mysterious Ms. DeMolay. (I'm not sure of the spelling of her name, as I listened instead of reading it in print.) The villain, evil Arnold Beckman, is an arms dealer, selling to both sides of conflicts all over the world. A better, more interesting set of characters would be hard to find.

I guess I'm starting to like westerns because this book was fun. After a slightly slow start when I thought for a little while that I might not finish this book, things picked up and the characters began to grow and change. Then I was hooked right up until the end.

Recommended for fans of westerns and DEFINITELY for fans of Will Patton's narration!
Profile Image for Nick.
29 reviews1 follower
December 17, 2015
Why only two stars? This should have been an automatic 5-Star: Mexican Revolution, Battle of the Marne, Texas Rangers, and Burke's writing. What could go wrong? Sadly, most of it. Let us count the ways.

The book is ponderously plotted - Elmore Leonard could have gotten to the same place in half as many pages - and has all the subtlety of a thousand pound weight dropped off a twenty-story building. Protagonist Hackberry Holland is not a particularly nice man, more a sociopath, really. Unfortunately, Burke feels the need to keep reminding us of this fact every eight pages or so. (Since the book is almost 450 pages, he must think we all have memory problems). Lead characters who are bad people are not that uncommon but there's usually something that makes them likable despite their unsavory characters. Holland is neither likable nor sympathetic

Then we get the novel's women, dressed up to be the Three Fates. First we have Beatrice, the bordello Madame who befriends Holland. Frankly, the way he treats her, her friendship is unfathomable. And she's not around enough to ascertain any explanation for her alliance.

Then there's Holland's common-law wife, Ruby, and mother to his child, Ishmael (really ?). Both are pretty much cardboard cut-outs (I have visions of Dudley Do-Right and Nell Fenwick) who are so good and noble, you can almost hear the organ music every time they show up.

And then, there's Holland's actual wife Beatrice who obviously suffers from multiple-personality disorder. Given her multi-faceted characterization, you'd think she'd be the one most fleshed -out (after Holland) But because she can be whatever Burke needs to drive the plot along at the moment, there's no real need to develop her character in any depth - she's pure artifice. Evil one moment, loving the next. There's an attempt at some background but it simply doesn't provide sufficient motivation.

And then we get to the "Villain" of the piece, Armold Beckman. Beckman is Snidely Whiplash, personified. He's supposed to be the epitome of evil, (although he abandoned his country, Austria, during WW I to fight for the good guys - or did he?) someone who enjoys inflicting pain and suffering upon the helpless. The problem is, of course, that there's little to chose between Beckman and Holland. Beckman is supposed to be the sadist but it's Holland who inflicts most of the torture (except for Burke, himself) and damage.

This whole concoction is brewed up around Beckman's quest to recover what purports to be the Holy Grail, which just happens to be lying around at the bottom of a hearse in the middle of Nowhere, Mexico at the beginning of the story. Frankly, I like the Monty Python quest better.

In sum, this is a classic Shaggy Dog Story of a novel: "extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or a pointless punchline." (Wikipedia) Rarely have I had to work so hard to extract so little. I have respect for Burke as a writer and some of his descriptions are positively breath-taking. Unfortunately, it's not nearly enough to sustain much enthusiasm for this work. Elmore Leonard (again), who knew his way around Westerns and criminals, had a list of ten rules for writers. Burke violates most of them and it shows.
1,677 reviews9 followers
December 6, 2015
(2 1/2) I don't know if I am getting too old and cranky, too impatient, or too ADD. I used to love James Lee Burke. The early Dave Robicheaux books were a must read. Now, I feel like the convoluted plots and flowerly language have gotten out of control. His later books are like trying to swim across the English Channel when it is full of oatmeal. This book is not far removed from that. The first 400 pages are very slow. Our fearless protagonist, Hackberry Holland, is quirky, wild and crazy and trying to figure out what will happen with him next is hard to follow. The story gets some intensity, focus and good action for the ending, and that saves the day. Interesting, yes. Riveting, no. Still a little too self indulgent for me.
Profile Image for Ed.
634 reviews54 followers
December 12, 2015
I struggled to get my mind around this sprawling novel about middle aged Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland's lifelong search for his estranged son Ishmael, a wounded veteran of the Great War. After a fast, lean and mean start in Mexico during the US army's pursuit of Pancho Villa, Hack's odyssey becomes mired in prose so sluggish it's like trudging through deep snow. Burke's devotion to lengthy descriptions of the weather, the locales and confrontational Texas dialogue seemed self indulgent to me like a good story in need of tighter editing. The characters were all compelling but desperately flawed in Hack's post World War One world of conniving wives and lovers, a heroic common law wife, a warmhearted madam, hayseed outlaws, a racist neighbor, an evil arms dealer antagonist, an ornery local sheriff and Hack's son Ishmael. All connected in a search for what might or might not be the Holy Grail!?! My fervent hope is James Lee Burke returning to present day New Orleans and the world of Dave and Clete's righteous pursuit of justice.
Profile Image for Jessaka.
888 reviews121 followers
August 17, 2019
Getting Away Froom Sociopaths

James Lee burke is one of my brother’s favorite authors, along with Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurty.

When he told me about McCarty, I read one of his books, Suttree, and I had to agree with him. McCarthy became my favorite author. I can’t say that I even like Burke’s writing, even though his descriptions of scenery are well written. I just thought that this story was too crude, too vulgar, and had too many sociopaths, not that McCarthy doesn’t have sociopaths in some of his books.

I just talked to my brother today, and he said, “You can’t compare the two authors.” I realized the truth to his statement. “Burke,” he added, “is just fun to read.”

He likes his detective stories that are set in Louisiana. Since I love New Orleans, I asked him what he liked about Louisiana. He said that he didn’t like New Orleans when he visited it because it was too touristy, and the streets were dirty, but he likes Louisiana because he likes Cajuns, the food, and the bayous. Yet if he lived there, he may not like it at all, just as I may not have liked living in New Orleans. Still, I wished that my husband and I had been able to live there, even if for a brief time.

“I hate bugs, and Louisiana is full of bugs,” he added. Yes, it is. Oregon, where he lives, has few bugs.

I told him that I liked Cajuns, Cajun music, jazz, Bourbon Street, the architecture in the French Quarter with its ornate iron work on the balconies, the bayous and its mysterious voodoo influence.

Liking these things, I loved the movies, The Big Easy and The Mighty Quinn.

This book was set in Texas, not in Louisiana, and Hackberry, the main character, was a Texas Ranger who went to Mexico in search of his son Ishmael, finding instead, the most mean, vile, and nasty sociopaths on earth. That’s a stretch, I know.

Because of this, I found this book was a struggle. Not that McCarty doesn’t have sociopaths in some f his books.

So, after listening to it for 6 hours, I looked to see how many more hours it had. 10 hours. I put it down.

Two days later, on August 12th, a car had hit and killed our cat, Mandy, when she was on her way home that morning. I picked her up from the side of the road and took her home. And then I cried. Not wishing to cry all day, I thought to see if I could finish this book, after all Wilderness by Lance Weller, another tragic book, had got me through the shock of Trump being elected. This book did the same, for I could forget about Mandy most of the day. Sort of. So for the next ten ours I felt somewhat relieved. Some books just have a way of helping a person when they wish to forget, even if only for a brief time.

22 reviews
October 17, 2015
I received an Advanced Reader's Copy in return for a review. The storyline of James Lee Burke’s new book HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN is as big as Texas and as intimate as the human heart. There is power of place, people and history both in Texas and in Old Mexico. Burke’s lush prose can break or fill your heart and makes readers active participants in the action. Mr. Burke’s beloved poetic observations are expressed through the points of view of his multiple characters.
Set in a three part Holland Family prequel, a younger Hackberry Holland is on a quest born out of remorse and pure love for his estranged son Ishmael in 1916 Mexico. We meet the cast of characters more fully as we travel back to 1891. We move forward to 1918 Marne and Ishmael’s fate upon his return to America.
Hackberry Holland could be a Knight Templar, however imperfect, righting wrongs through extreme violence and caring for victims with a great tenderness. Hack stumbles upon the Grail and inadvertently becomes the Grail’s Keeper. This legend is not handled in a gratuitous manner. The Grail shows up in a most peculiar way, as this world and the world beyond, often dance together in Burke’s books. Hack’s orneriness has left him friendless but he finds his knights, both male and female, who join Hack’s quest to find his son.
Burke’s strong women, Maggie, Ruby and Beatrice act like the Sisters of Fate in Hack’s life. Maggie, who lives in a state of cognitive dissonance, is destined to become one of classic literature’s great femme fatales. Ruby is the good, fearless mother and champion of the working class. The mysterious Beatrice de Molay is related to the last Knight Templar, Jacques de Molay and is Hack’s guide through hellish situations.
The antagonist is the evil arms dealer Arnold Becker who thrives on the pain of others. He believes that the Grail is his. He is intertwined with all of the characters in this novel and has minions who try to retrieve the Grail from Hack.
With masterful depth, James Lee Burke shifts from the Edenic qualities of our earth to the Hell people create. His description of WW1 places us with Ishmael. It is a visceral journey into the madness of war. Mr. Burke’s writing makes us experience racial inequalities, the lack of care and respect for returning war veterans and the few choices women had in that era. We feel the sorrow of a young man’s lost childhood and a father’s regret all set against the country’s pulse of big business stepping upon many in the name of money and progress.
Mr. Burke’s narrative drive picks up speed like a runaway train and he drives it full throttle into an extremely satisfying ending.
James Lee Burke is the best American writer of our time. I love this book. It is Burke’s best book ever. Burke has written a literary masterpiece embracing literary allusions, love, compassion, forgiveness, redemption and justice. Who would not want to be enveloped in this Grace?
Profile Image for Connie Ciampanelli.
Author 2 books11 followers
November 17, 2015
I received an advance copy of "House of the Rising Sun" in exchange for an honest review.

Approaching age eighty has done little to diminish James Lee Burke’s narrative gifts or his power and skill as one of America’s premier novelists. He is often called, with just cause, an American national treasure.

His newest novel, "House of the Rising Sun," focuses on the early years of the Hack Holland saga. It is a story of a fractured family and its seemingly doomed struggle to reconcile and reunite, of a lifetime of misunderstanding, misdirection, and trust destroyed.

Burke’s trademark juxtaposition of breathtaking lyricism and startling violence once more are at the forefront of the tale, and his glorious prose enraptures readers from the opening lines. Scenes are painted in exquisite detail that approach the cinematic.

Hackberry Holland is one of James Lee Burke’s iconic characters. Like most Burke protagonists, he is honorable at his core, yet struggles to control his violent tendencies, especially when the innocent are endangered. Hack is a good, intelligent man, complex and haunted, sensitive yet violent, fully cognizant of his flaws and fearful of losing control, which he does, over and over again.

Like most Burke heroes, Hackberry eats himself alive with guilt. As the story begins, Hack, a Texas Ranger, with his comrades unintentionally, while shooting at a train carrying Mexican revolutionaries, takes the lives of innocent riders, women and children. As the agent who visited pain and grief upon the innocent, haunted by his sin, he attempts to redeem himself. On his journey, Hack’s redemption, or semi-redemption, is aided by the strong women in his life, Ruby, the mother of his estranged son, Ishamel, his wife, Maggie, too much like him for either of their good, and Beatrice, that madam who sees him as worthy of saving.

In some ways, Hack is a throwback to the old-time West with its abundance of bordellos and madams, saloons and beer-and-a-shots, its card games and pistols. He is aware that his ways and the world he knows are rapidly slipping past him and that a flood change will soon descend. The new age, the twentieth century, is symbolized by cars, modern conveniences and attitudes, and by Hackberry’s inability to deal with them.

In "House of the Rising Sun", James Lee Burke continues his long-time quest of examining the nature of evil---physical, psychological, emotional---in arenas as large as war and as banal as the endless pursuit of riches, evil at a level difficult to fathom. Past evils are linked to the present in a never-ending parade of malevolence, death, and destruction.

"House of the Rising Sun" is a worthy addition to the vast James Lee Burke canon. He never disappoints.
Profile Image for Michael Robotham.
Author 68 books5,684 followers
December 30, 2016
Poetic, mystical, philosophical and atmospheric. An old fashioned western with elements of the Holy Grail.
Profile Image for Overbooked  ✎.
1,494 reviews
November 8, 2016
Well, that was … different.
I loved the language in this book, the descriptions of the landscape were exquisite. Mr Hackberry captivated me, he is an intriguing complex man, the author did and excellent job of exposing his troubled inner soul. But, what I liked most was the fact that James Lee Burke chose to include some tough women along with the ubiquitous tough guys: Maggie, Ruby and Ms. DeMolay. Another character that I liked was Andre, the Haitian driver, I wish the author would have spent more time on him. Too bad that the villain, Arnold Beckman, wasn’t as well executed, in my opinion, his role as the devil incarnate, isn’t as three dimensional as the others.
I don’t think that I have become a convert to the Western genre. I thought that the book was too long and convoluted (), by the end, I had enough of violence and the protagonist justification of it by taking a higher-than-everyone-else moral ground. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ride and I’ll probably read more of James Lee Burke’s work.
3.5 stars.

Fav quotes:

In the distance he could see the sky growing darker and a twister dropping out of a cloud and wobbling like a giant spring across the desert floor in sunlight that was as bright as gold. There was a fatal beauty at work in this cursed land that he would never be able to recapture or describe to others. Mexico was a necropolis where the quick and the dead were inextricably linked on opposite sides of the soil, one always aware of the other. It was a place where killing was lauded, and where peasants wore depressions with their knees in the stone steps of seventeenth-century cathedrals, and where the light was harsher and brighter than it should have been and the colors were so vivid they jittered when you looked at them too long.

He wanted to shed his life as a snake sheds its skin. Of all the iniquity of which human beings were capable, was not betrayal the one hardest to undo?

Our destiny didn’t lie in the stars, he told himself, or even in our mettle. It lay in our ability to recognize a gift when it was placed in your hands.

Profile Image for Melissa.
320 reviews19 followers
May 29, 2017
I received an advanced review copy from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

I'm on a roll, three 5-stars in a roll. James Lee Burke's still got it! I loved it as much as my first Dave Robicheaux (In the Electronic Mist with Confederate Dead) novel.

Set in 1918 Texas/Mexico, former Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland (I love the name) is searching for his United States Army Captain son, Ishmael. Holland will do whatever it takes to find him, and you better not get in his way. While on the hunt, Holland discovers what could literally be the Holy Grail, the cup Jesus drank from during the Last Supper. An Austrian arms dealer, Arnold Beckman, who also wants the cup is just as violent and dead-set on getting his way. It's only a matter of time before the two meet, and hell breaks loose.

The book features a slew of realistic characters with tons of depth. Holland, truly likable, also has a string of women he's left behind from his Texas Ranger days including Ishmael's mom, Ruby, ex-wife, Maggie, and Beatrice, a bordello owner. Other characters shine including Beatrice's driver, impromptu sidekick of Holland, and lawmen Andre and Willard.

Loved loved loved this book. Burke is just one of those authors you can't not read!
Profile Image for stan.
351 reviews16 followers
May 20, 2016
I rate this author among the finest American writers of the 20/21st century and this novel is so amazing it is up there with the best of Hemingway and Steinbeck. The main protagonist is so complex and so mixed up with a guilt that is hard to comprehend.
It is America with no holds barred at the turn of the 20th Century in the old wild west that is coming to turns with the modern ways. This book is so compelling you would find it hard to put down. One of the greats
Profile Image for Jeffrey.
57 reviews49 followers
January 15, 2022
This is the 9th book of the Holland Family series that I have read and so far it is the best. Only have The Jealous Kind and Another Kind of Eden left.

James Lee Burke writes nice prose and this one has the best plot so far. The elder Hackberry Holland is a favorite character across all the fiction I have read. A former Texas Ranger who is living in new and different times, but is stubbornly sticking to his old ways.

A couple lines I highlighted. Pearls of wisdom and social commentary.
Passivity and mediocrity ensure failure and belong on the same daisy chain.

Didn’t they understand who the enemy was, the ones who gave them bread and circuses and kept their attention directed elsewhere while they despoiled the earth and cheated and robbed the treasury and kept working people poor and uneducated?
455 reviews19 followers
February 13, 2016
His books are always fascinating. His use of the English language challenges one to have a better vocabulary. The characters are bigger than life, just always a good book when he writes it.
Profile Image for Steve.
924 reviews135 followers
January 14, 2016
I am ... so ... glad ... it's ... over. I think I need a shower, a bath, or, in this context, "a good soak." Or maybe a stiff drink. Or ... a good night's sleep (without dreaming) ... or ... something.

Great book, no doubt about it. Compelling - right out of the starting gate through the (gratifying) conclusion - hard to put down, immensely distracting, tightly constructed, vivid, yes ... oh ... so ... vivid - and (not surprisingly, for JLB readers) artfully done, nay lyrical, chock full of transcendent nuggets that could have been lifted straight from some of the more memorable passages found in Wallace Stegner's or Norman Maclean's (or, of course, Larry McMurtry's) epic works.... But, at the same time, so very, very dark (obsidian?), violent, brutal, ruthless, vengeful, ... and, well, hard. (And, did I mention graphic?) It's easy to analogize to Cormac McCarthey, and there are parallels there, each with their relative strengths.

Themes? Easier to ask what isn't in play here? Texas and Mexico, WWI (and the Harlem Hellfighters), law and (dis)order, violence, sadism, race and prejudice, religion and belief and mysticism ... and ... would you believe, the Holy Grail? ... and prostitution, addiction, and booze and drugs and drug dealers and knives and guns and arms dealers, and government contractors, and ... unions ... and even a disorienting more-than-cameo involving Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and .... horses and trains and cars ... and.... family, and love, and loss and ... no, seriously! And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

All of which leaves me scratching my head. What possesses me to read this kind of literature? Well, I'm not alone, and I'm quite late to the JLB bandwagon. (This is only my third, and he's got dozens in print at this point, along with a well-deserved, faithful and committed following.) I guess I read this for the same reason that folks watch cage fighting on television. Sure, it's different from my sedate and sterile and controlled existence, but it also speaks to some primal ... something that, fortunately, most of us suppress throughout our adult lives.

Alas, this won't be my last JLB novel. At some point, I'll have to commit to one of the series, and I probably need to start at the beginning.... But only after a break ... a breather ... a cleansing ....
Profile Image for Matt.
835 reviews
August 2, 2022
This was an audiobook and the narration (by Will Patton) was superb. I liked it. The author's use of description might at first glance might seem to be "overdone" but as the story went on I learned to appreciate the intense and vivid images. He gave the senses of smell and sound a prominent place in his word pictures if you can understand that. The time setting jogs between the late 1880s before his son Ishmael was born and the years after World War I, when Ishmael came back from the war injured.

An okay plot- it was revenge... but I was more impressed with the author's skill with the dialog and description of the story. This was my first Hackberry Holland novel and I believe I will read more. He is a good but flawed protagonist.

>You don't want to be the bad guy Arnold Beckman at the end. Sizzle... Sizzle... Boom... Boom... Boom.
Profile Image for Art.
812 reviews6 followers
March 4, 2018
It's a Hackberry Holland book alright, but this one is Hackberry's grandfather (also Hackberry), a former Texas Ranger, who is trying to reunite with his estranged son, Army Capt. Ishmael Holland.

First he searches for him as Pershing's troops fight in Mexico during the revolution, then he looks for him after he is wounded in the World War One Battle of the Marne.

Since it's a Holland Family novel, you know there's going to be lots of blood-letting and soul-searching along the way. But the original Hackberry is a keeper -- as is this series. It's number four in the series but actually predates all of the other stories.

Burke is at his usual lyrical best, writing with heart and painting a vivid word picture. I have come to prefer the Hollands to their Louisiana cousin. Now it's on to Billy Bob and some Montana stories.
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,758 reviews236 followers
January 31, 2016
I confess that I am a big fan of Burke’s. He’s written a prodigious number of novels over the past fifty years, and I have read almost all of them. This is why, although I get nearly all of my books free prior to publication, I put this title on my Christmas wish list when I wasn’t given access to a galley. Perhaps because my spouse paid full jacket price for it, I am holding it to a higher standard than I usually do. This book is either a three star or four star read, depending on whether we factor in the dollars. Let’s call it 3.5 and round it up. It seems like a shame to 3-star a writer who is so talented and has contributed so much to American literature.

Most of Burke’s novels are detective fiction, crime fiction, mystery, or all three; now and then he writes historical fiction instead. And his choice to send Dave and Clete, the protagonist and side kick of the Robicheaux series, off into the sunset is a good one. No matter how much I enjoyed it, in that fictional world where cops do the right thing and bad guys are really bad every time, there is no way the reading public would be able to continue to enjoy their vigilante behaviors between the covers of a book at the same time that the Black Lives Matter movement has made us aware of that problem—along with the throw-down weapons used to justify gratuitous brutality after the fact--that exist in real life. So, that series is over, and I’m okay with it.

Technically, House of the Rising Sun is a four to five star novel. Burke’s use of imagery is rivaled by few and exceeded by none. Here, his use of allegory, creating a personal Odyssey based on one of the author’s own ancestors, is unquestionably strong. If you love literary fiction for its own sake, this is your book.

By far the strongest writing lies in the portions are set on the battlefields of Europe. Burke’s prose is eloquent and stirring in narrative passages that speak to the class nature of imperialist warfare.

For me, the issue has to do with plot and pacing. The entire book is essentially built around Hackberry Holland’s effort to find his son. They are separated when his wife leaves him and Ishmael is still a child, and through World War I and the period that follows, the journey to find Ishmael winds its way in a way that serves the allegory, but that feels tedious to me as a reader. A fight here; a fall off the wagon and drunk in the streets; looking here, there, everywhere; writing letters; making phone calls; it seems for a long time as if he has barely missed his son, who left just a few minutes ago, or just last night, or who was here until last week. Throw into it the villains—Maggie, Beatrice, and above all, Arnold Beckman—and that’s pretty much it. I don’t want to give anything away, but there isn’t that much suspense to begin with.

A lot of the dialogue seems as if it has been recycled from Burke’s previous books; not whole paragraphs, just speech patterns with a fragment here, a fragment there that left me thinking I had read it before this.

Anytime I find a jarring racist term in a novel, I point it out so that prospective readers will know it’s coming. The “N” word gets used several times; it is within the context of establishing or emphasizing someone’s malign nature. There are also other areas in which Holland takes Caucasian characters to task for racist behavior. Still, I like to think a writer of Burke’s stature can and should develop a credible villain without resorting to this hurtful, and to my thinking, cheap and easy method.

Whether this novel is for you probably depends most on what you look for in a novel. Lush descriptions and horrifically real violence abound, but there isn’t the kind of suspense you’d expect a missing-kid story to employ.

When push comes to shove, I recommend you read this, if you are still interested after reading the reviews, but get it once it goes to paperback, or wait for it to be available used; don’t pay full cover price for it unless your pockets are deep and your interest strong.
Profile Image for Sam Sattler.
971 reviews40 followers
November 30, 2015
Hackberry Holland is a man within whom the forces of good and evil are constantly battling. On the one hand, Hack is a good man who always strives to do right by his fellow man. On the other, he is a man who, despite all his innate kindness, sometimes loses control in the heat of a moment and does some very bad things. His life is now filled with so much regret that Hack has come to believe that it is his personal failings that best define him.

His friends (many of them ex-Texas Rangers like Hack) and family have all been tested at one time or another by Hack’s rash behavior. Some of them feel as if they have been trying to save Hack from himself forever – but they still come running, albeit reluctantly, when the man needs help. And right now Hack needs every bit of help he can round up because he has stirred the wrath of a man who will stop at absolutely nothing to retrieve the jeweled cup that Hack has taken from him.

Austrian Arnold Beckman is Hackberry Holland’s opposite. Hack is a well-intentioned man whose mistakes, when they cause injury to innocents, keep him from sleeping at night. Beckman is a man who not only does not worry about injuring those weaker than himself, he takes great delight in doing so in ways that will inflict the worst psychological damage and physical pain imaginable upon his victims. This may not a fight that he ever meant to pick, but after Beckman involves Hack’s estranged son in the battle to regain the lost cup, Hack knows it is one that will have to be fought all the way to its bloody conclusion – whatever that turns out to be.

House of the Rising Sun is a rousing adventure set during that period of Texas and U.S. history during which the ways of the Old West are being replaced by more “modern” ways of doing things. World War I is over and Americans are confident that the War to End All Wars has done exactly that. Never again will young men be sacrificed to save the world from itself. Unfortunately, everyone fails to account for the existence of men like Arnold Beckman. But there are, thankfully, still a few throwbacks around like Hackberry Holland who recognize Evil when they see it and are willing to fight it to the death.

The greatest strength of any James Lee Burke novel, and House of the Rising Sun is no exception, comes not from the first rate thriller that the man writes but from the emotional depth of the characters with which he populates those thrillers. Hackberry Holland is a man very much in the mold of Burke’s best-known character Dave Robicheaux. Like Robicheaux, Hack is filled with self-awareness and regrets; he is a man who will one day look back at his life and judge himself more harshly than even his meanest critics would ever dare. James Lee Burke understands human nature as well as anyone writing today, and he paints a setting as vividly as any artist ever painted one. He is a true master of his craft.
Profile Image for Maxine.
1,248 reviews43 followers
November 4, 2015
House of the Rising Sun by author James Lee Burke opens in 1916 in revolutionary Mexico. Former Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland is searching for his estranged son, Ishmael, a captain in the US army, who may have been captured by the Mexican army. Although he is unable to find his son, he kills several Mexican soldiers and steals an important artifact that belongs to Arnold Beckman, a ruthless arms dealer. Fast forward to 1918 and Beckman is determined to get the artifact back and will do anything including kidnapping and torturing Ishmael who was wounded at the Second Battle of the Marne.

The novel is chock full of action, great dialogue, and memorable characters. Hackberry is an interesting and very likable if flawed hero – he is a bit of an anachronism, a man straddling two worlds, a product of the old west with its lawlessness and sense of individual justice, uncomfortable in the modernity characterizing the gilded age at the beginning of the 20th century. He drinks too much, acts impulsively and violently without considering possible consequences, and he makes terrible choices. Since the story is told in the third person active voice, we readers are privy to all these bad choices yet it is impossible not to root for him or sympathize even knowing the likely poor outcomes not only for Hackberry but for others including the son he has set out to find. Beckman makes a great villain, a robber baron with a penchant for fine living and sadistic acts, and Ishmael, honest, naïve to a fault, and loyal to the men he commands, is a true innocent, perhaps the only one in this tale, despite the horrors he has witnessed.

But there are also some very strong female characters here too, women determined to make their own way in a man’s world: Maggie, Hackberry’s legal wife, manipulative, self-serving, and ruthless, Ruby, Ishmael’s mother and a tough smart union organizer, and Beatrice DeMolay, brothel madam, intelligent, and always one step ahead who could teach Hackberry a thing or two about the benefits of a well-thought out plan if he only had the patience to listen.

House of the Rising Sun is a well-written novel, fast paced with plenty of suspense and tension. It has appeal for lovers of westerns as well as thrillers and is the kind of tale that sucks you in right at the beginning and doesn’t let up until the end.
Profile Image for Larry.
96 reviews66 followers
March 2, 2016
This is a great American novel. (I'm not calling it The Great American novel, but I'm comfortable with my statement.) Over the decades that Burke has been writing, he has moved through his many Dave Robicheaux books and become a writer who transcends the category of genre writer to where his recent novels have some true literary merit. (Another writer who has made this same journey beyond genre is George Pelecanos, who has done for the Washington, DC mystery/suspense novel what James Lee Burke has done for those based in Louisiana or Texas.)

In this book, Burke takes a retired Texas Ranger, that man's son, and three incredible women, two of whom were past prostitutes. Throw in a few scenes on the border of the Mexican Revolution, a few scenes from World War 1, one Austrian arms dealer, a Haitian chauffeur, the Sundance Kid, and oh yes, the chalice from the Last Supper, and Burke turns it all into a novel of deep beauty (In other hands, that mix would have given a totally laughable result.) I'm still not sure how he accomplishes the overall effect of this and other recent novels; I just know that I highly recommend them.
Profile Image for bfilbeck.
87 reviews
September 19, 2015
House of the Rising Sun has it all--a villain you love to hate, a hero you will sympathize with, and a cast of great supporting characters that keep you wonder whose side they are on. James Lee Burke's writing paints pictures in your mind and hones your emotions to a razor sharp edge and this book is his work at its best! A must-have book that comes out just in time for the holidays!
323 reviews6 followers
November 14, 2015
I received this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. I'm a fan of Burke's Dave Robicheaux books. So, I was surprised I didn't enjoy this book. I ended up just skimming it. I found I didn't care about Hack Holland and couldn't care what happened to him.
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