“Wayfaring Stranger” could probably be considered a crime novel primarily, but author James Lee Burke doesn’t make it easy to classify this one. I haven’t read many of Burke’s works, but he is largely known for the series of mysteries featuring Dave Robicheaux. He also writes about a family named Holland. Weldon Harland is the protagonist on this particular novel. The reader first meets him as a sixteen year-old who lives with his mother and cantankerous grandfather, Hackberry Holland, a former lawman with a past as wild as his name. This starts off in Texas not long before the beginning of the Second World War where Weldon meets the lethal lovebirds known as Bonnie and Clyde.
Weldon later goes off to fight in the war and rescues a woman from a Nazi concentration camp and marries her. Just when one would think his life would go easier after the war, Weldon’s efforts to break into the oil business introduce him to a different and more insidious type of corruption and dark motives.
The characters here turn out to be quite complicated and layered. Weldon is a man who can fight in a war and sometimes thinks he can act as ruthlessly as those out to bedevil him. Although he may at times hesitate more than is necessarily wise when dealing with people without scruples, he does not come off as a coward. He is a man who wants to honor and protect his wife whose Jewish background tends to bring suspicious and abuse to their doorstep. Weldon’s best friend is a fellow soldier who fell for the wrong woman. A wealthy would-be benefactor is also someone who he may not be able to trust easily.
Almost all of it works quite nicely. Burke does have a somewhat distracting style of shifting from first to third person, but the novel still kept me engaged. There is a kind of gritty eloquence in his style of prose. This novel is part of a series but it works quite well on its own.
The next literary destination is going to be the sun-drenched landscape of Cochise County, Arizona where Sheriff Joanna Brady has another killer to find just after giving birth to a new child in “Field of Bones” by J.A. Jance.