Hackberry Holland’s third appearance, and Burke’s 30th, brings back sociopathic killer Preacher Jack Collins (Rain Gods, 2009, etc.), but this time surrounds him with so many seriously bad guys that he can scarcely get the sheriff to take his phone calls.
Danny Boy Lorca, visionary and drunk, has a wild story to tell. He witnessed a coyote pursuing two fleeing men and shooting one of them to death. The discovery of DEA informant Hector Lopez’s corpse confirms the first part of Danny Boy’s story. What’s become of the surviving fugitive? It seems clear that the coyote was either Antonio Vargas, aka Krill, or his enthusiastic sidekick Negrito, and scarcely less clear that the man on the run is Noie Barnum, an enigmatic ex–federal employee whose knowledge of certain military secrets makes him the Holy Grail sought by the FBI’s Ethan Riser, self-anointed citizen soldier Temple Dowling and Russian porn dealer Josef Sholokoff, who plans to sell his to al-Qaeda so that their members can pump him dry. But why has he taken refuge with Preacher Jack, and which of his pursuers will end up with the Grail? Before the answers to these tangled mysteries finally surface, Hackberry will rescue one of his deputies, R.C. Bevins, from darkest Coahuila; continue to fend off romantic overtures from another, Pam Tibbs; and fight his way through dozens of the kinds of conversations of the sort that Burke does better than anyone else, in which two men of action (or women of action, like homesteader/mystic Anton Ling) lunge at each other with fighting words while talking past each other completely because they’re really fighting themselves.
The dialogue scenes, along with the action sequences, the South Texas landscape and the indelibly conflicted characters make you want to give Burke a medal; the tangled plot, which lurches from one great sequence to the next without going anywhere but the grave, is the price you pay for these deep pleasures.