LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
James Lee Burke has written a long list of thrillers - most of them about his tough Louisiana cop, Dave Robicheaux. But in his newest book, the cop is the sheriff of a Texas county down on the Mexican border - a man named Hackberry Holland.
James Lee Burke joins us from the CBC in Calgary, where he's on vacation. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JAMES LEE BURKE (Author, "Rain Gods"): Well, thanks again for having me on your show. I appreciate it very much.
WERTHEIMER: Now, you took your new book, which is called "Rain Gods," to Texas. Why?
Mr. BURKE: Well, one of the central characters is Hackberry Holland, who narrated a novel I published in 1971. I believed I owed Hackberry an amends. His story wasn't quite over yet.
WERTHEIMER: Hackberry Holland is a 70-year-old widower, he's a reformed drunk and a recovered reformer. He spends the early morning hours watering and weeding his flowerbeds. I mean, why this kind of, I got to say, very different biography.
Mr. BURKE: Well, he is. He's very interesting and unusual man. And I've written a number of novels about his family, the Hollands, who are based on my own family. I didn't change their names.
WERTHEIMER: You know, there is a lot of violence in your books. I think that some of it's sort of pretty hard to take. And I thought, you know, when I heard that your hero was an older guy, I thought that might mean that maybe he wouldn't get so beaten so severely about the head and shoulders as Robicheaux does.
Mr. BURKE: Well, Hackberry, of course, brings to the story his own history. And he discovers this new antagonist in his life - a man who has hijacked Christianity, this killer by the name of Preacher Jack Collins. Who has all the appearances of a sociopath but he has another dimension to him as well - that he's a driven man who believes he's part of a biblical drama.
WERTHEIMER: This guy, he's quite spectacular. I mean, this man is a serious psycho. I thought maybe he seems himself as a fallen angel.
Mr. BURKE: That's a good term for it. Jack sees himself as the left hand of God. He is the man who, in effect, brings down God's wrath on the enemies of the children of Israel. But Preacher's a very interesting man. He's the most intriguing antagonist or villain I think I've written about.
WERTHEIMER: I would agree with that. You know, one of the differences in "Rain Gods," from your other books, is the country. Hackberry Holland lives in a very dry place - long views, no bayous. After the very loving way that you wrote about Louisiana, how do you feel about writing about these dry gulches, and dry lightning, and all of that - you know, that long country?
Mr. BURKE: Well, there's something about the American Southwest that's enchanting. It's magical. And it's the correspondent of the Mideast, and it's almost biblical, the landscape is. And it's funny how many Texas towns have the names of ancient cities. But, to me, it's the perfect place to use as the backdrop for a biblical story.
WERTHEIMER: Just about halfway through the book, there's a description of these biblical lands that you're talking about. One of the paragraphs that we want to just ask you to read: Holland talks about looking out at his property. Do you remember that?
Mr. BURKE: Yes.
WERTHEIMER: Do you remember that part?
Mr. BURKE: Yes, I do.
He washed his dishes and dried them, and put them away, then sat on the porch as the evening cooled and plumes of dust rose off the land and a purple haze formed in the sky. When he strained his eyes, he thought he saw lightning on a distant hill like gold wires sparking against the darkness.
He stood up from his wicker chair and leaned his shoulder against one of the lathe-turned wood posts on the porch. The sun had burned into a red spark between two hills, and again he thought he smelled impending rain in the South. He wondered if all old men secretly searched for nature's rejuvenation and every tree of lightning pulsing silently inside a storm cloud, and every raindrop that struck a warm surface and reminded one of how good summer could be, of how valuable each day was.
WERTHEIMER: So, what about Hackberry Holland? Will we see him again?
Mr. BURKE: Oh, I think so.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. BURKE: Hack's a great character.
WERTHEIMER: James Lee Burke - his new book is called "Rain Gods." It's set in Texas. Mr. Burke joined us from way out west, from Calgary in Canada. Thank you very much.
Mr. BURKE: Oh, thanks for having me again, Linda. It's been swell. Pardon me for calling you by your first name.
WERTHEIMER: It's perfectly all right with me. Thank you.
You can read an excerpt of James Lee Burke's newest novel, plus get more great summer reading recommendations on the new NPR.org.
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