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Lay Down My Sword and Shield by James Lee…
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Lay Down My Sword and Shield (1971)

by James Lee Burke

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While certainly enjoyable, this is not Burke's best. Yes, this book gave me the background for Hack that I'd been missing since I read Rain Gods and Feast Day of Fools first. It was quite dated because, you know, it was published in 1971. James Lee Burke has gotten so much better.

Glad I read it, though. ( )
  quillmenow | Jan 31, 2013 |
That James Lee Burke's "Lay Down My Sword and Shield" is back in print will be of particular interest to Burke fans who know Hackberry Holland only from last year's "Rain Gods." By the time of "Rain Gods," Hack Holland is a grizzled old Texas lawman still not ready to call it quits even though he is in his early seventies. But in 1971's "Lay Down My Sword and Shield," the only other novel featuring Hack Holland, he is a young Texas lawyer being courted for a run at the U.S. Congress - hopefully, to fill the very spot once held by his father.

Even as a young man, though, Hack Holland is damaged goods, already suffering many of the anxieties and weaknesses that will haunt him and shape him into the man he will be almost forty years later. Hack is one of those Korean War veterans with the unfortunate experience of having been captured and imprisoned by the Chinese during the war. What happened to him inside that prison, told primarily in one long, flashback chapter, is something that often still wakes him in a drenching sweat during the middle of the night.

Hack Holland is a heavy drinker. He uses alcohol to help him make it through the night, and he uses it to help him tolerate the people he deals with during the day. Hack has an attitude problem when it comes to certain kinds of people: powerbrokers, society uppity-ups, bigots, phonies, and anyone else who tries to tell him what to do. Luckily for him, he has enough money to get away with not trying too hard to hide his feelings. But hide his feelings is exactly what he will have to do if he is serious about becoming a United States congressman.

If nothing else, Hack Holland is loyal to his friends, especially those he knows from his time in Korea. Now one of those old friends is in bad trouble down in South Texas, having been convicted of assaulting a peace officer while walking a picket line in support of higher wages for migrant farm workers. Hack heads that way, intending to do little more than file an appeal for his old friend, but he soon finds himself walking that same picket line and in the same trouble as the friend he is there to rescue. Perhaps because of his own prisoner-of-war experiences, Hack cannot resist coming to the defense of the underdog - and it doesn't hurt, too, that he is strongly attracted to a beautiful young organizer he meets in that little South Texas town. Hack Holland is, first and foremost, about ensuring justice for those too weak to fight for it themselves, and he will fight until he drops.

"Lay Down My Sword and Shield" tells a powerful story, especially when dealing with Hack Holland's war experiences and the brutality suffered by those walking the picket line, but it does not exhibit the keen storytelling skills longtime James Lee Burke readers have come to expect. The book is, at times, overburdened by its long, descriptive set-up passages, making it a somewhat more difficult book to read than the ones for which Burke deservingly has become so well known. Even so, Burke fans should not miss this one.

Rated at: 3.5 ( )
  SamSattler | May 5, 2010 |
I'm ambivalent about this book. The quality of the writing and story telling is impressive, but I really dislike the main character. The four star rating is largely homage to Burke's writing, and his bringing to life the farm worker's struggle for fair treatment. It's also in appreciation of the light he casts on the type of people who succeed in politics, and why.

There are scenes between Hack and Veresa that are drawn with a surgeon's scalpel, and you can almost feel the blood oozing out of your own pores. Similarly, Hack's brother's complaints have the ring of truth and I longed from him to throw Hack out on his drunk butt.

Hackberry Holland is an abhorrent character. He's a selfish, self-absorbed, egotistical, alcoholic who blames all of his problems on other people. In many ways, he's stereotyped, as are the women with whom he interacts.

He falls into the farm workers struggle not out of principle, but in an alcoholic binge. I would have had more respect for him had he had some principle about it.

Yes, he was a POW in a Chinese camp and his treatment there defies comprehension. Burke describes it extensively, and in great detail. Too much is given over to this, so much so that it felt like mere sensationalism, a disappointment from a writer of Burke's ability.

Although overall I enjoyed the book, I'm not sure I'll read any more books featuring Hackberry Holland. ( )
  EvaGannon | Mar 6, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786889500, Mass Market Paperback)

BACK IN PRINT AT LAST -- THE MUST-READ NOVEL THAT INTRODUCES JAMES LEE BURKE'S TEXAS SHERIFF HACK HOLLAND

The hero of James Lee Burke's recent bestseller Rain Gods, cousin to lawman Billy Bob Holland, and a genuine product of the South, both old and new, Hackberry Holland makes his first appearance in this early gem from "America's best novelist" (The Denver Post). Against the backdrop of growing civil rights turmoil in a sultry border town, the hard-drinking ex-POW attorney yields to the myriad urgings of his wife, his brother, and his so-called friends to make a bid for a congressional seat -- and finds himself embroiled in the seamy world of Texas powerbrokers. And when Hack attempts to overturn an old army buddy's conviction, and crosses paths with a beautiful union organizer who speaks to his heart in a way no one else has, he finds both a new love and a new purpose as he breaks free from the shackles of wealth and expectation to bring justice to the underserved.

Read the first chapter for Lay Down My Sword and Shield.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"...Hackberry Holland makes his first appearance in this early gem...Against the backdrop of growing civil rights turmoil in a sultry border town, the hard-drinking ex-POW attorney yields to the myriad of urgings of his wife, his brother, and his so-called friends to make a bid for a congressional seat--and finds himself embroiled in the seamy world of Texas powerbrokers. And when Hack attempts to overturn an old army buddy's conviction, and crosses paths with a beautiful union organizer who speaks to his heart in a way no one else has, he finds both a new love and a new purpose as he breaks free from the shackles of wealth and expectation to bring justice to the underserved."--p.[4] of cover.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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