James Lee Burke – The Jealous Kind

review, crime, novel

Texas, 1952. 17-year-old Aaron Holland Broussard could just go to school and work at the local filling station. But his big mouth gets him in trouble over and over again. Problem is that he is a lot cleverer than the rest of the boys and this makes things even more complicated. When he spots Valerie Epstein in a fight with her boyfriend Grady Harrelson, he tries to help her thus triggering a series of events and making a lot of enemies. Grady is not a nobody just as his father whose business is all but legal. What starts as a boys’ fight end in a series of fatal murders involving not only the local gangsters but also Italian mafia.
James Lee Burke has the capacity of integrating a lot of themes into a fast-paced mystery novel. On the surface, we have the coming-of-age novel where boys make mistakes, bond with the wrong bunch and experience their first love. But beneath, we have all those war experiences of the parent generation which left the scars not only on the outside but also inside and marked them forever – and the threat of the boys of being sent to Korea from which many did not return. It is an accusation of what those useless wars do to people and what they bring back home than can never be made undone. Apart from this, the enormous violence and the easy availability of weapons of all kinds are also clearly shown. That more weapons do not lead to more security is obvious here and having kids grow up in this environment surely is not the best idea. What I found especially interesting was the side plot about the paedophile teacher – this is a topic hardly ever touched in novels, yet it should be highlighted what happened and how society dealt (and deals?) with victims and perpetrators.

All in all, I just rushed through the novel. The short chapters just flew by, the whole plot moves at a very fast pace and keeps you reading on. The dialogues are lively and authentic; the action is exactly what you would expect in such a novel. There is no question at all about James Lee Burke being the Grand Master of mystery writing.

Graham Greene – The Power and the Glory

review, novel,

The times are hard in the 1930s for catholic priests. The protagonist has to hide from the police hunting for representatives of the now forbidden church. He is no perfect, humble servant of God – he drinks, even has a daughter and knows when to look away. Nevertheless, he fulfills his duties as a supporter of his parish and people risk their life to hide him. But the situation gets more and more troublesome when the police start taking hostages to force the people to sell out the priest. In the final confrontation between the priest and the lieutenant both have to acknowledge that they are not that different from each other.
The basic topic was a reality in Mexico, Tomas Garrido Canabal tried to shut down all churches in his province of Tabasco. Since I am not all too familiar with Mexican history I can hardly understand how all this could happen, but since the Catholic belief came with the settlement of the Europeans and obviously suppressed traditional cults, the hatred can easily be understood. So in a way, this novel could be read as a kind of colonial story and since both sides are neither only good or only bad, we also get a differentiated view on a complicated situation. However, the title suggests that the church’s position might be the one to survive and to be stronger, since it clearly alludes to the end of the Lord’s prayer: “For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, amen.” To me this is definitely one of the best of Graham Greene’s novels since it is less political and much more based on personal conflicts than other novels I have read of him. This personal perspective of the priest but also the people he meets gives a deep insight in how the people feel and what counts in life in the end.