- Title: Every Cloak Rolled in Blood
- Author: James Lee Burke
- Where to buy: Amazon (affiliate link)
- Genre: Paranormal Mystery, Suspense, Supernatural, Crime Fiction
- Would I recommend: Yes. It’s an engrossing look at the profound mystery of good versus evil, and a stark picture of the pain of loss and the redemptive power of family.
In his most autobiographical novel to date, James Lee Burke continues the epic Holland family saga with a writer grieving the death of his daughter while battling earthly and supernatural outlaws.
Novelist Aaron Holland Broussard is shattered when his daughter Fannie Mae dies suddenly. As he tries to honor her memory by saving two young men from a life of crime amid their opioid-ravaged community, he is drawn into a network of villainy that includes a violent former Klansman, a far-from-holy minister, a biker club posing as evangelicals, and a murderer who has been hiding in plain sight.
Aaron’s only ally is state police officer Ruby Spotted Horse, a no-nonsense woman who harbors some powerful secrets in her cellar. Despite the air of mystery surrounding her, Ruby is the only one Aaron can trust. That is, until the ghost of Fannie Mae shows up, guiding her father through a tangled web of the present and past and helping him vanquish his foes from both this world and the next.
Drawn from James Lee Burke’s own life experiences, Every Cloak Rolled in Blood is a devastating exploration of the nature of good and evil and a deeply moving story about the power of love and family.
I’m familiar with James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books (one of which I reviewed here). Before reading Every Cloak Rolled in Blood, I had not read any of his Holland Family Saga works. Y’all know how this goes. Now I gotta go read all of them. I need to win the Powerball and be independently wealthy just so I have time to read all of the books that are calling my name.
Aaron Holland Broussard is cut adrift. Since the sudden, violent death of his daughter, Fannie Mae, he has lost his anchor. Death isn’t unfamiliar to him, but the loss of Fannie Mae cuts deep – deeper than deaths on the battlefield in Vietnam, deaths of parents, deaths of friends. He is determined to find a way to reconnect with her, to bring her back or join her beyond the veil. He isn’t actively suicidal, but you get the feeling he wouldn’t mind if the Good Lord called his number.
When two local boys paint a swastika on his barn, his 911 call leads Broussard to an ally – a friend? a soulmate? – state trooper Ruby Spotted Horse. Ruby is also struggling with her own grief over the death of her niece, and, like many others in the story, is not entirely what she seems. She confesses to Broussard that she is one of a group called the Guardians, and that the Old People – monsters wrapped in myth and story from ages past – are trapped in her basement.
Broussard knows that people, that things, are not always what they appear to be. He’s seen – and talked to – Colonel Eugene Baker, the long-dead architect of a horribly brutal attack on a peaceful band of Blackfeet. He’s faced a malevolent little girl who looks like Ruby’s murdered niece, but probably isn’t. And as the evils of the past bleed over ever more forcefully into Broussard’s present, he knows that he must fight evil, in human or spiritual form, with everything he has. Otherwise, it may overtake them all, and Fannie Mae may be lost to him forever.
Burke’s books are always filled with turns of phrase sometimes graceful, sometimes spare, sometimes philosophical, and this book is no exception. That, for me, is one of the greatest pleasures of reading his novels – seeing how he will express himself when I turn the next page. Whether Burke wrote the words himself or, as he says in the note at the beginning of the book, “another hand wrote it for me,” the prose is magnificent, and it stayed with me long after the last page was turned.
Burke tackles a lot of chewy issues in this book. The pandemic, social distancing, BLM, white supremacy, twisted politics. But it all takes a backseat to the constant underlying thrum of the pain and loss a parent feels upon losing a child. If this story is Burke’s most autobiographical yet, he is surely sharing his grief with us here, and inviting us to feel its weight for a moment.
This is not necessarily an easy read, as emotionally laden as it is, but it is worthwhile. Love opens us up to pain and loss, but it also offers healing and redemption. Burke portrays both masterfully.
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy from Simon & Schuster and NetGalley. All opinions here are my own, and I don’t say nice things about books I don’t actually like.