Read Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel Online

Authors: James Lee Burke

Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel

Wayfaring Stranger: A Novel
James Lee Burke
Simon Schuster (2014)
Rating: ★★★★☆
Tags: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Literary, General
Fictionttt Thrillersttt Suspensettt Literaryttt Generalttt

In his most ambitious work yet,
New York Times
bestseller James Lee Burke tells a classic American story through one man's unforgettable life—connecting a fateful encounter with Bonnie and Clyde to heroic acts at the Battle of the Bulge and finally to the high-stakes gambles and cutthroat players who ushered in the dawn of the American oil industry.

In 1934, sixteen-year-old Weldon Avery Holland happens upon infamous criminals Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow after one of their notorious armed robberies. A confrontation with the outlaws ends with Weldon firing a gun and being unsure whether it hit its mark.

Ten years later, Second Lieutenant Weldon Holland barely survives the Battle of the Bulge, in the process saving the lives of his sergeant, Hershel Pine, and a young Spanish prisoner of war, Rosita Lowenstein—a woman who holds the same romantic power over him as the strawberry blonde Bonnie Parker, and is equally mysterious. The three return to Texas where Weldon and Hershel get in on the ground floor of the nascent oil business.

In just a few years’ time Weldon will spar with the jackals of the industry, rub shoulders with dangerous men, and win and lose fortunes twice over. But it is the prospect of losing his one true love that will spur his most reckless, courageous act yet—one that takes its inspiration from that encounter long ago with the outlaws of his youth.

A tender love story and pulse-pounding thriller that crosses continents and decades of American history,
Wayfaring Stranger
“is a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream” (Benjamin Percy,
Poets Writers



“[A] pitch-black, decades-spanning family saga.” (
Entertainment Weekly

“Burke seems to get better and better with every book. During the last few years in particular, he has opened up a larger canvas to paint brilliant allegorical plots – involving good and evil, money and power, Christianity and morality – and in some ways he has lifted the work above the level of crime fiction in a way that is more obvious to readers. . . . [
Wayfaring Stranger
] is one of the most hopeful and ambitious books he’s ever written, a sprawling historical epic full of courage and loyalty and optimism and good-heartedness that reads like an ode to the American Dream.” (Benjamin Percy
Poets Writers

“[An] epic American saga . . . Burke, best known for his Dave Robicheaux series, writes with great assurance and wisdom.” (
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“The postwar setting allows Burke to dramatize the uncertain early days of big oil, but the characters, their volcanic conflicts and their implacable demons will be instantly recognizable to [his] many fans. Instead of focusing on the wages of long-ago sin, as he generally does, Burke shows the sins actually being committed over several fraught years in the nation’s history. The result is a new spaciousness married to his fine-tuned sense of retribution.” (
Kirkus Reviews

“An ambitious, deeply satisfying historical thriller. . . . The wartime scenes showcase Burke at his best—vivid, finely wrought, highly evocative writing . . . A wonderful slice of midcentury American life overlaid with the roiling drama of individual lives as only Burke can portray them.” (
Booklist (starred review)

“Burke's fans will recognize his lyrical strengths regarding the themes of social justice and class struggle, violence set to a stunning backdrop of natural beauty and destruction, and a Gulf Coast region that includes historically accurate details to delight Texas and Louisiana natives. . . . Perhaps more than any of Burke's previous work,
Wayfaring Stranger
is a tender love story, proving yet again his versatility and skill in creating gorgeous, luscious, painful stories of the American experience. Beautifully composed and tragic,
Wayfaring Stranger
is a sweeping historical epic of war and the American dream.”— (

“In the hands of Edgar Award-winning mystery writer Burke, the thriller promises to have the sinister edge missing from the similarly plotted ‘Forrest Gump.’” (
The Washington Post

“In Wayfaring Stranger, Burke addresses many of the same themes he grapples with in his crime novels: power and corruption, integrity and depravity, America's indelible heritage of violence and oppression and the valor of those who have stood against it. In this novel, he gives those themes a sweep across several decades, wrapping them in his signature lushly electrifying descriptions and embodying them in intriguing characters in a tale that is a historical novel, a thriller, a romance and an irresistible read.” (
Tampa Bay Tribune

“Unlike anything else he has written […]
Wayfaring Stranger
is the author’s hymn to life and the light in us all.” (
Austin American-Statesman

“But for all of the stories Burke’s told in interviews or fit on the pages of his 36 published books, there’s something different about his latest novel,
Wayfaring Stranger
. Burke, who lives outside of Missoula, acknowledges as much. Whenever the conversation shifts to the book, he sits forward, lowers his voice and sounds less like he’s serving up a colorful story and more like he’s making a confession.” (
Missoula Independent

"The lyrical
of Burke’s prose underlines the moral stance of his hero, an absolutist as fixed toward right and wrong as a compass needling true north." (
Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, and named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, is the author of more than thirty previous novels and two collections of short stories, including such
New York Times
bestsellers as
Light of the World

Creole Belle
Swan Peak
The Tin Roof Blowdown
, and
Feast Day of Fools
. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

Wayfaring Stranger
James Lee Burke
Simon Schuster (2014)

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A number of readers have written regarding the name of Hackberry Holland. There are two characters in my work by the same name. Hackberry the frontier lawman who put John Wesley Hardin in jail first appeared in a story titled “Hack” and a novel titled
Lay Down My Sword and Shield
. His grandson, Hackberry the younger, was the returning Korean War corpsman and former POW who narrated the novel. Later, Hackberry the war veteran became the sheriff on the south Texas border we meet in
Rain Gods
Feast Day of Fools

Billy Bob, Hackberry the younger, and Weldon are first cousins.

My ancestor Hackberry Hollan (without the “d”) is buried in the Hebron Baptist Cemetery in Yoakum, Texas, alongside my great-grandfather, the gunfighter and Confederate soldier and Baptist preacher Sam Morgan Hollan. My grandmother was Alafair Hollan, whose name Dave Robicheaux and I borrowed for our daughters.

Wayfaring Stranger
, which begins in 1934, we once again meet Hackberry the elder, who tries to help his young grandson, Weldon Holland, deal with some very unpleasant people in the oil and natural gas business.

I hope you enjoy
Wayfaring Stranger
. It’s the best book and the most biographical one I have written. Nothing else of mine comes close to it. I dedicated it to the memory of my beloved first cousin Weldon Benbow “Buddy” Mallette, who walked all the way to the Elbe River and came home with two Bronze Stars, the Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. I believe the women in this story are the most interesting and engaging and complex I’ve written about. I think the postwar era was a golden age, and I don’t believe my feelings are simply an expression of generational nostalgia. I’ll always be proud I was witness to the events that characterized the era in which I grew up, and I’m also proud that I’ve written about it with some degree of objectivity. When all is said and done, and I don’t care what anyone else says, it was a grand time to be around.

All the best,


In memory of my beloved first cousin, Weldon Benbow “Buddy” Mallette, among the stars forever




year none of the seasons followed their own dictates. The days were warm and the air hard to breathe without a kerchief, and the nights cold and damp, the wet burlap we nailed over the windows stiff with grit that blew in clouds out of the west amid sounds like a train grinding across the prairie. The moon was orange, or sometimes brown, as big as a planet, the way it is at harvest time, and the sun never more than a smudge, like a lightbulb flickering in the socket or a lucifer match burning inside its own smoke. In better times, our family would have been sitting together on the porch, in wicker chairs or on the glider, with glasses of lemonade and bowls of peach ice cream.

My father was looking for work on a pipeline in East Texas. Maybe he would come back one day. Or maybe not. Back then, people had a way of walking down a tar road and crossing through a pool of heat and disappearing forever. I ascribed the signs of my mother’s mental deterioration to my father’s absence and his difficulties with alcohol. She wore out the rug in her bedroom walking in circles, squeezing her nails into the heels of her hands, talking to herself, her eyes watery with levels of fear and confusion that nobody could dispel. Ordinary people no longer visited our home.

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