Bestselling author James Lee Burke’s masterpiece is the story of a father and son separated by war, circumstance, and a race for the Holy Grail—a thrilling entry in the Holland family saga The New York Times Book Review has described as “saturated with the romance of the past while mournfully attuned to the unholy menace of the present.”
After a violent encounter that leaves four Mexican soldiers dead, Texas Ranger Hackberry Holland escapes the country in possession of a stolen artifact believed to be the mythic cup of Christ, earning the ire of a bloodthirsty Austrian arms dealer who places Hack’s son, Ishmael, squarely in the cross hairs of a plot to recapture his prize.
On the journey from revolutionary Mexico in 1918 to the saloons of San Antonio during the Hole in the Wall Gang’s reign, we meet three extraordinary women: the Danish immigrant who is Ishmael’s mother and Hackberry’s one true love; a brothel madam descended from the Crusader knight who brought the Shroud of Turin back from the Holy Land; and a onetime lover of the Sundance Kid, whose wiles rival those of Lady Macbeth. In her own way, each woman will aid Hack in his quest to reconcile with Ishmael, to vanquish their enemies, and to return the Grail to its rightful place.
About the Author
James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He’s authored thirty-seven novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.
Hometown:New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana
Date of Birth:December 5, 1936
Place of Birth:Houston, Texas
Education:B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960
Read an Excerpt
House of the Rising Sun
THE SUN HAD just crested on the horizon like a misplaced planet, swollen and molten and red, lighting a landscape that seemed sculpted out of clay and soft stone and marked by the fossilized tracks of animals with no names, when a tall barefoot man wearing little more than rags dropped his horse’s reins and eased himself off the horse’s back and worked his way down an embankment into a riverbed chained with pools of water that glimmered as brightly as blood in the sunrise. The sand was the color of cinnamon and spiked with green grass and felt cool on his feet, even though they were bruised and threaded with lesions that were probably infected. He got to his knees and wiped the bugs off the water and cupped it to his mouth with both hands, then washed his face in it and pushed his long hair out of his eyes. His skin was striped with dirt, his trousers streaked with salt from the dried sweat of the horse. For an instant he thought he saw his reflection in the surface of the pool. No, that was not he, he told himself. The narrow face and the shoulder-length hair and the eyes that were like cups of darkness belonged on a tray or perhaps to a crusader knight left to the mercies of Saracens.
“¡Venga!” he said to the horse. “You have to be instructed to drink? It is no compliment to me that the only horse I could steal is probably the dumbest in Pancho Villa’s army, a horse that didn’t even have the courtesy to wear a saddle.”
The horse made no reply.
“Or is stupidity not the problem?” the man said. “Do you simply consider me an ogre to be feared and avoided? Either way, my sensibilities are fragile right now, and I’d appreciate it if you would get your sorry ass down here.”
When the horse came down the embankment and began to drink, the man, whose name was Hackberry Holland, sat on a rock and placed his feet in a pool, shutting his eyes, breathing through his nose in the silence. It was a strange place indeed, one the Creator had shaped and beveled and backdropped with mountains that resembled sharks’ teeth, then had put away for purposes he did not disclose. There was no birdsong, no willow trees swelling with wind, no tinkle of cowbells, no windmill clanking to life, the spout drumming water into a galvanized tank. This was a feral land, its energies as raw and ravenous as a giant predator that ingested the naive and incautious, a place closer to hell than to heaven.
He longed for a firearm and a canteen sloshing with water and a tall-crown hat and a pair of boots and soft socks and a clean shirt. It was not a lot to ask. Death was bad only when it was degrading, when it caught you sick and alone and lying on sheets soiled with your smell, your fears assembling around you like specters in the darkness.
“You see those two strings of smoke up on that mountain?” he said to the horse. “I suspect those are cook fires built by your former owners. Or by banditos that got no use for gringos from Texas. That means we’re going to have to cross those mountains north of us, and other than the grass growing in this sand, there’s probably not a cupful of feed between here and the Rio Grande. You think you’re up to that?”
He rested his palms on his knees. “That’s what I thought,” he said. “So I guess the big question is: What are we going to do? The answer is: I got no idea.”
He stared at the water rippling across the tops of his feet. A great weariness seemed to seep through his body, not unlike a pernicious opiate that told him it was time to rest and not quarrel with his fate. But death was not supposed to come like this, he told himself again. His fingernails were rimmed with dirt, his belt taken from him by his captors, his toes blackened with blood where they had been systematically stomped. He looked up at the sky. “They’re already circling,” he said. “They’ll take me first, then they’ll get to you, poor horse, whether you’re breathing or not. I’m sorry it’s worked out this way. You didn’t do nothing wrong.”
The horse lifted his head, ears forward, skin wrinkling from a blowfly that had lit on his rump.
“What is it?” Hackberry said.
Then he turned his face to a breeze blowing down a slope not more than a hundred yards away. No, it wasn’t simply a breeze. It smelled of mist and trees, perhaps pines, and thunderheads forming a lid above canyon walls. It smelled of cave air and fresh water and flowers that bloomed only at night; it smelled of paradise in a mountain desert. “You reckon we found Valhalla? It’s either that or I’m losing my mind, because I hear music. You think you can make the climb up there, old pal?”
This time Hackberry didn’t wait for a response. He picked up the horse’s reins and led him up the embankment on the far side of the riverbed, convinced that his deliverance was at hand.
HE WORKED THE horse up the incline through the entrance of the canyon and followed a trail around a bend scattered with fallen stone. A paintless one-story Victorian house, with a wide veranda and cupolas on the corners and fruit trees and two cisterns in back, was perched on a grassy bench with the voice of Enrico Caruso coming from a gramophone inside. The incongruity of the scene did not end there. A hearse, outfitted with brass carriage lamps and scrolled with paintings of white and green lilies and drawn by four white horses, was parked in front. There were red sores the size of quarters under the animals’ harnesses.
At least a dozen horses were tethered to a rail, and others were picketed in the side yard. Some of the horses wore United States Army saddles. Beer and tequila bottles had been broken on the rocks along the trail that led to the yard. Just as the wind picked up, Hackberry’s horse spooked sideways, walleyed, pitching his head against the reins.
“It’s all right, boy,” Hackberry said. “We’ve probably ridden into a straddle house, although I must admit that hearse is a little out of the ordinary.”
The horse’s nostrils were dilated, ears back. Hackberry dismounted and walked him up the grade, trying to see inside the hearse. Someone had restarted the recording. He could see no one through the windows. Directly above, the clouds had turned a shade of yellow that was almost sulfurous. The wind was cooler and blowing harder, creating a sound in the trees like water rushing through a riverbed. He seemed to have wandered into a magical place that had nothing to do with its surroundings. But he knew, just as the horse did, that sentiments of this kind about Mexico had no credibility and served no purpose. The campesinos were kept poor and uneducated; the police were corrupt; and the aristocracy was possessed of the same arrogance and cruelty that had given the world the Inquisition. Anyone who believed otherwise invited the black arts of both the savage and the imperialist into his life.
He gave up on the hearse. The trees in the rear of the house had thick, dark green, waxy leaves and were shadowed by the canyon’s walls. But something was wrong with the image, something that didn’t fit with the ambiance that Gauguin would have tried to catch with his oils. Hackberry closed and opened and wiped his eyes to make sure his hunger and dysentery had not impaired his vision or released images that he kept walled away in his mind. No, there was no mistaking what had transpired in the canyon lidded by yellow clouds that seemed to billow like thick curds from a chemical factory. Four black men in army uniforms, two of them with their trousers pulled to their ankles, all of them in their socks, their hands bound behind them, had been hanged from the tree limbs, each dying on a separate tree, as though someone had used their death as part of an ornamental display.
Hackberry turned the horse in a circle and began leading it back down the slope.
“Hey, hombre! ¿A dónde vas?” a man’s voice said.
A Mexican soldier in a khaki uniform had stepped out on the porch. He was thin and sun-browned and wore a stiff cap with a black bill and a gun belt he had cinched tightly into the flaps of his jacket. He had a narrow face and pits in his skin and teeth that were long and wide-set and the color of decayed wood. “You look like a gringo, man,” the soldier said. “¿No hablas español?”
Hackberry gazed idly around the yard. “I cain’t even habla inglés,” he said. “At least not too good.”
“You are a funny man.”
“Not really.” Hackberry paused and squinted innocuously at the sky. “What is this place?”
“You don’t know a casa de citas when you see one? How do you like what has been hung in the trees back there?”
“I mind my own business and don’t study on other people’s grief.”
“You know you got a Mexican brand on your horse?”
“I found him out in the desert. If you know the owner, maybe I can give him back. Can you tell me where I am?”
“You want to know where you are? You are in a big pile of shit.”
“I don’t know why. I don’t see myself as much of a threat to nobody.”
“I saw you looking at the hearse. You bothered by corpses, man?”
“Coffins and the like make me uneasy.”
“You’re a big liar, man.”
“Those are hurtful words, unkind and unfair, particularly to a man in my circumstances. I’d feel better if you would put that gun back in its holster.”
“You want to hold my gun, man?”
“No, cain’t say as I do.”
“Maybe I’ll give you the chance. Maybe you might beg to hold my gun. You get what I’m saying, gringo?” The officer’s mouth had become lascivious.
Hackberry stared at the figures suspended in the trees up the slope, at the way the limbs creaked and the figures swayed like shadows when the wind gusted. “What’d those colored soldiers do?”
“What did they do? They cried like children. What you think, man? What would you do?”
“Probably the same. Tell you what. I cain’t pay for food, but I’ll chop wood for it. I’d like to feed my horse, too. Then I’d like to be on my way and forget anything I saw here.”
The Mexican officer took a toothpick from his shirt pocket and put it in his mouth. His hair was black and thick and shiny and bunched out from under his hat. “Some Texas Rangers attacked one of our trains and killed a lot of our people. You heard about that?”
Hackberry glanced up at the clouds that were roiling like smoke. He rubbed the back of his neck as though he had a crick in it, his pale blue eyes empty. “What would provoke them to do such a thing?”
“I’d tell you to ask them. But they’re all dead. Except one. He got away. A tall man. Like you.”
“I still cain’t figure why you hung those colored soldiers. Y’all don’t let them use your cathouses?”
“You ever seen dead people tied on car fenders? Tied on like deer full of holes? Americans did that in the village I come from. I saw it, gringo.” The Mexican soldier drew down the skin below his right eye to emphasize the authenticity of his statement.
“Never heard of that one.”
“You’re a tall gringo, even without boots. If we hang you up, you’re gonna barely touch the ground. You’re gonna take a long time dying.”
“I guess that’s my bad luck. Before you do that to me, maybe you can he’p me out on something. Those soldiers back there were members of the Tenth or Eleventh Cavalry. There’s a white captain with the Tenth I’ve been looking for. You seen a young captain, not quite as tall as me, but with the same features?”
The Mexican removed the toothpick from his mouth and shook it playfully at Hackberry. “You’re lots of fun, man. But now we’re going inside and meet General Lupa. Don’t talk shit to him. This is one guy you never talk shit to, you hear me?”
“You’re saying he’s not quite mature, even though he’s a general in your army?”
“That’s one way to put it, if you want to get your head blown off. The Texas Rangers I was talking about? They killed his son when they attacked the train.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Mr Burke has a great gift for creating rich charaxhters woven together into each others lives .... giving us a superb story. This book will not disappoint!
The story and the logic behind the characters makes this book a must for readers that enjoy the study of human nature. Ordinary people can be profound.
The storyline of James Lee Burke’s new book HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN is as big as Texas and as intimate as the human heart. There is power of place, people and history both in Texas and in Old Mexico. Burke’s lush prose can break or fill your heart and makes readers active participants in the action. Mr. Burke’s beloved poetic observations are expressed through the points of view of his multiple characters. Set in a three part Holland Family prequel, a younger Hackberry Holland is on a quest born out of remorse and pure love for his estranged son Ishmael in 1916 Mexico. We meet the cast of characters more fully as we travel back to 1891. We move forward to 1918 Marne and Ishmael’s fate upon his return to America. Hackberry Holland could be a Knight Templar, however imperfect, righting wrongs through extreme violence and caring for victims with a great tenderness. Hack stumbles upon the Grail and inadvertently becomes the Grail’s Keeper. This legend is not handled in a gratuitous manner. The Grail shows up in a most peculiar way, as this world and the world beyond, often dance together in Burke’s books. Hack’s orneriness has left him friendless but he finds his knights, both male and female, who join Hack’s quest to find his son. Burke’s strong women, Maggie, Ruby and Beatrice act like the Sisters of Fate in Hack’s life. Maggie, who lives in a state of cognitive dissonance, is destined to become one of classic literature’s great femme fatales. Ruby is the good, fearless mother and champion of the working class. The mysterious Beatrice de Molay is related to the last Knight Templar, Jacques de Molay and is Hack’s guide through hellish situations. The antagonist is the evil arms dealer Arnold Becker who thrives on the pain of others. He believes that the Grail is his. He is intertwined with all of the characters in this novel and has minions who try to retrieve the Grail from Hack. With masterful depth, James Lee Burke shifts from the Edenic qualities of our earth to the Hell people create. His description of WW1 places us with Ishmael. It is a visceral journey into the madness of war. Mr. Burke’s writing makes us experience racial inequalities, the lack of care and respect for returning war veterans and the few choices women had in that era. We feel the sorrow of a young man’s lost childhood and a father’s regret all set against the country’s pulse of big business stepping upon many in the name of money and progress. Mr. Burke’s narrative drive picks up speed like a runaway train and he drives it full throttle into an extremely satisfying ending. James Lee Burke is the best American writer of our time. I love this book. It is Burke’s best book ever. Burke has written a literary masterpiece embracing literary allusions, love, compassion, forgiveness, redemption and justice. Who would not want to be enveloped in this Grace?
I received an advance copy of "House of the Rising Sun" in exchange for an honest review. Approaching age eighty has done little to diminish James Lee Burke’s narrative gifts or his power and skill as one of America’s premier novelists. He is often called, with just cause, an American national treasure. His newest novel, "House of the Rising Sun," focuses on the early years of the Hack Holland saga. It is a story of a fractured family and its seemingly doomed struggle to reconcile and reunite, of a lifetime of misunderstanding, misdirection, and trust destroyed. Burke’s trademark juxtaposition of breathtaking lyricism and startling violence once more are at the forefront of the tale, and his glorious prose enraptures readers from the opening lines. Scenes are painted in exquisite detail that approach the cinematic. Hackberry Holland is one of James Lee Burke’s iconic characters. Like most Burke protagonists, he is honorable at his core, yet struggles to control his violent tendencies, especially when the innocent are endangered. Hack is a good, intelligent man, complex and haunted, sensitive yet violent, fully cognizant of his flaws and fearful of losing control, which he does, over and over again. Like most Burke heroes, Hackberry eats himself alive with guilt. As the story begins, Hack, a Texas Ranger, with his comrades unintentionally, while shooting at a train carrying Mexican revolutionaries, takes the lives of innocent riders, women and children. As the agent who visited pain and grief upon the innocent, haunted by his sin, he attempts to redeem himself. On his journey, Hack’s redemption, or semi-redemption, is aided by the strong women in his life, Ruby, the mother of his estranged son, Ishamel, his wife, Maggie, too much like him for either of their good, and Beatrice, that madam who sees him as worthy of saving. In some ways, Hack is a throwback to the old-time West with its abundance of bordellos and madams, saloons and beer-and-a-shots, its card games and pistols. He is aware that his ways and the world he knows are rapidly slipping past him and that a flood change will soon descend. The new age, the twentieth century, is symbolized by cars, modern conveniences and attitudes, and by Hackberry’s inability to deal with them. In "House of the Rising Sun", James Lee Burke continues his long-time quest of examining the nature of evil---physical, psychological, emotional---in arenas as large as war and as banal as the endless pursuit of riches, evil at a level difficult to fathom. Past evils are linked to the present in a never-ending parade of malevolence, death, and destruction. "House of the Rising Sun" is a worthy addition to the vast James Lee Burke canon. He never disappoints
Hackberry Holland may have been the last of his kind, straddling the ways of the 19th century as the 20th dawned and progressed through World War I, as James Lee Burke captures the riotous times and personalities in this wonderfully told story. It begins with Hackberry as a sometime Texas Ranger in Mexico where he discovers a hidden artifact which may or may not be the Holy Grail while looking for his estranged son, now a Captain in the U.S. Army commanding Black troops, The cup plays a central role in the novel, with a very rich man in San Antonio, from whose property Hackberry removed it, claiming possession, and Hackberry keeping it hidden. Meanwhile the author turns his attention to the son’s experiences in the trenches and his wounds at the Battle of the Marne, as well as Hackberry’s rational and irrational behavior, especially with regard to the two women in his life. This novel is another example of how Mr. Burke creates outstanding tales and characters, written in superb language, providing deep insights into the personalities populating it. The descriptions of the times and environment are without equal. Highly recommended.
Very disappointing. Disjointed story telling. I have read and loved every one of James Lee Burke's novels. But this one felt as though the author had lost focus, or maybe interest.
Name: Aiden Griffin. God-Parent: Apolo. Clothes: Grey shirt and blue jeans. Looks: Blonde hair and blue eyes. Wepons: Crossbow, sword, and two daggers. Powers: Can use light in any way, and can cast spells with music. Backround: I had a pretty good life, but one day I saw a little sun above my head and started following it. By the time the sun went away, I was at camp half blood.