The first of this Hackberry Holland trilogy Lay Down My Sword and Shield was released in 1971, it then took James Lee Burke 38 years to pen this sequel and fuck me was it worth the wait, 38 years of wisdom and experience have gone into these characters and it shows.
Not for me of course because I’m lucky enough to read all three books one after the other, the first lay Hackberry Holland’s soul open for all to see and you don’t see characters laid as bare as this very often. In the first story Hack was an often infuriating man, took liberties with everyone around him and pretty much did everything his own way with no respect or recompense, just a long trip down Jack Daniels Way.
In Rain Gods, time has moved on for everyone, Hack no longer a lawyer is on a different angle of the law, he’s now a small town Texas Sherriff and an old man, somewhere in his fifties I guestimate because his wife is now dead, his kids up and away and Hack just has his role as a law enforcement officer and his horses to occupy him. If that wasn’t enough he finds himself caught up in the disturbing consequences of the massacre of 9 Thai women, illegal aliens used for drug trafficking. The search for justice pits Holland against drug dealers, pimps and one particularly psychopathic man who hastens death to those that are looking for it and some that aren’t.
Whereas the first in the trilogy primarily concentrated on Hack, his history as a POW and his almost death wish philosophy. Rain Gods opens up on a lot more characters, everyone of them flawed in some way, striving for redemption or just cold hard cash.
This is where we meet one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever encountered, ‘Preacher’ Jack Collins is a gun for hire, a complicated man whose actions surprised and shocked me several times, the self-styled left hand of God who spends a good portion of this book on crutches due to the fact a woman he was supposed to kill, bettered him and shot him in the foot. An unpredictable man who seems to find an edge in every conversation and this for me was the most compelling part of the story, the dialogue is absolutely riveting at times, Tom Stechschulte the narrator did a fantastic job and every conversation around the Preacher had a hint of danger to it.
And when Hack Holland meets Preacher Jack Collins, you’re never quite sure which way it’s going to go, especially when the Preacher carries a Thompson machine gun as his chosen method of a quick conclusion.
It’s not just a story full of Texan gangsters, there are several strong willed female characters that add to the story, Deputy Pam Tibbs being the most prevalent and it’s almost a joy to listen to her attempts to ensnare the wily old Sherriff in places he just doesn’t want to go.
James Lee Burke creates an atmosphere perfect for the occasion, there’s mention of the Alamo and tumbleweed amidst the carnage that is Rain Gods but this is a deep personnel story from both sides of the fence and I enjoyed it immensely. In fact I’m going to listen to the last one with thoughts of this going into my all-time top 5, it is that good.