James Lee Burke has just published his greatest novel

"Every Cloak Rolled in Blood" by James Lee Burke

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"Every Cloak Rolled in Blood" by James Lee Burke

Twenty-five years ago I did my first interview with James Lee Burke. Last year I did my 20th interview with this writer who has been called “America’s best novelist” (The Denver Post). Burke has published 40 novels. His latest, “Every Cloak Rolled In Blood” came out Tuesday and I’m hoping to talk to him again soon.

“Every Cloak Rolled In Blood” is the most personal book he has written. Our narrator in this one is a best-selling novelist in his mid-80s. He lives on a ranch near Lolo, Montana. He has progressive values that are somewhat at odds with the deeply conservative community where he lives. And he is grieving the death of his daughter who died recently.

Burke’s narrator is identical with the author in those ways, by his age, location, political views, and his grief. But that seemingly autobiographical template gets expanded quickly as we take off on what has to be his wildest and most creatively imaginative story yet. This is not an autobiography.

While Burke is best known for his series which features the Louisiana lawman Dave Robicheaux, he has also written a number of books that are centered on members of the Holland family. In real life Burke is descended from the Hollands and he has woven their authentic exploits throughout the fictional storylines of these tales.

Our narrator is Aaron Holland Broussard. This story is set during these pandemic times. In the first chapter a couple of young thugs appear at his place and paint a swastika on his barn. He confronts them as one shouts at him: ‘You don’t belong here!” then “Go somewhere else!”

His daughter Fannie Mae has recently died; he’s overwhelmed with grief. He cannot stop thinking about her. He feels like there is “a hole as big as a pie plate in the center of my chest. I cannot breathe. I feel I’m living in a nightmare that belongs in the mind of someone else.”

Then those white supremacists showed up. Broussard takes an interest in one of them. He hires him to do work around his place. His generosity and compassion for this misguided youth backfire. Broussard finds himself getting sucked into a swirling vortex of hate that has been simmering for as long as humans have walked the earth.

Readers of Burke’s recent Holland family novels will recognize some familiar themes here - racism, drug abuse, and the haunted places where native peoples were exterminated during the 19th century. There are many aspects of what some might call the supernatural. Broussard keeps seeing Fannie Mae. His daughter speaks to him from beyond the grave.

These pages are haunted by spectres and ghosts. Some of them are evil. Over the course of many interviews with Jim I have come to understand that he doesn’t consider these entities to be unusual; they are a part of life that we can choose to ignore at our peril. And Burke’s lyrical descriptions of nature are as always, utterly captivating.

Vick Mickunas of Yellow Springs interviews authors every Saturday at 7 a.m. and on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. on WYSO-FM (91.3). For more information, visit www.wyso.org/programs/book-nook. Contact him at vick@vickmickunas.com.