Wayfaring Stranger by James Lee Burke

Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel - James Lee Burke

Wayfaring Stranger is a slightly different animal to the gritty thrillers starring Hackberry Holland that I’ve been devouring recently.


The Holland family’s story, even claim to fame always comes back to the Grandfather and his antics in the Wild West in the late 1890’s. As a lawman he crossed swords, or pistols maybe, with the infamous gunfighters & outlaws Bill Dalton and John Wesley Hardin, dubbed one of the bloodiest killers of the Old West. Now I googled these as their names have cropped up in several stories now and they do both come with colourful histories, it’s certainly a period I’m developing an interest in.


Anyway this story kicks off in 1936 and Grandfather Holland is still around, a strong character who has a story that probably outweighs all his charges but this tale is about Weldon Holland, 16 years old and about to meet some significant people of the era. Spotting a vehicle in the woods out back of their property, Grandfather and Weldon investigate and find notorious armed robbers Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde Chestnut Barrow holed up after a robbery. The encounter ends with Weldon putting a bullet through their window as the criminals flee but this meeting stays with Weldon throughout the story, captivated by the beautiful Bonnie Parker.


The story jumps to the War ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland and Sergeant Hershel Pine escape the Battle of the Bulge by the skin of their teeth and stumble onto a recently deserted extermination camp. A harrowing part of the story sees them rescue a woman amidst the bodies, who Weldon will eventually chase around Paris determined to find and lay his heart on the line for.


Weldon and Rosita marry and set out for America where he becomes a partner with Hershel Pine and what follows is the rapid rise of a business born in the War itself and the enemy they left behind. A failsafe method of welding oil pipelines, big news indeed for the oil business.


Their success brings a wagonload of unwanted adversaries, most come disguised as friends, shaking your hand, patting your back while leading you over a trapdoor covering spikes. It’s an altogether different type of enemy than your usual bad guy, it’s the dirt at the bottom of the oil barrel, the shit you can’t get rid of and eventually it reaches everywhere. The depths aren’t deep enough for some people and its gripping to see how far the might of the oil business and even Hollywood will go to either get a piece of both Weldon and Hershel or ruin them, run them into the ground.


Wayfaring Stranger is an exemplary character driven thriller, where the heroes aren’t cops and the bad guys are more calculated than your average villain, where you cross the money men and it will come back to haunt you in ways you couldn’t possibly imagine.

The story also touches poignantly on Weldon’s relationship with his family, they’ve all got stories to tell, it’s by no means the mainstay of the story but it’s always close and personnel.


A 4.5 Rating, recommended.