Burke at seventy-five is perhaps at his most powerful, time and wisdom honing his storytelling skills with Biblical overtones. Painted on a vast canvas between Texas and Mexico, the landscape is unchanged, scoured by time and the blood of those who have struggled, migrants shuffling quietly in the dark, sometimes moving targets for those who see them as the enemy, patriots and true believers who commune with a vengeful God and Indians who hear the voices of their ancestors. This wild, untamed land draws many souls: the outlaws, the morally vagrant, men both good and evil in pursuit of varying causes, whether it a be a drunken Indian ex-boxer who quakes in fear while witnessing a murder but later faces the killer and reclaims his pride, or the wealthy Russian with a band of mercenaries on a mission to pervert justice.
It begins with a gruesome killing and the escape of a man with valuable insider knowledge of Predator drones, of inestimable value to whomever holds him hostage. The murder occurs in Sheriff Hackberry Hollandís county, the lawman closing in on his eighties with little tolerance for the lack of cooperation offered by the FBI or the secret agendas of mercenaries searching for the missing man. Two women bedevil Holland: his chief deputy, Pam Tibbs, who harbors an uncomfortable attachment for her boss; and the woman known to immigrants as La Magdalena, Anton Ling, with a history that reaches back to Cambodia and a need for redemption, giving aid to those in need.
War and religion loom large, whether the pasts of men forged in the crucible of war or seeking relief in fire and brimstone and the justice of a Biblical God. The two are interchangeable in a country close to the eye of the Creator, where natureís beauty and manís venality come into conflict, a special hell for those with demons to exorcise. On a dramatic stage that crackles with heat lightning, random fires and the parched and blackened souls of truly evil men, yet another battle is waged as La Magdalena draws the interest and curiosity of those searching for the missing man. From a mestizo haunted by the death of his unbaptized children to Hollandís nemesis, Jack Collins, a narcissistic killer long believed dead, to the righteous preacher of the Cowboy Chapel, Reverend Cody Daniels, or the perversely-twisted son of a senator, Temple Dowling, Burkeís novel puts warring factions on a collision course that ends in lightning, fire, a hail of bullets, and a near escape from the Hounds of Hell.
Surely at his most magnificent, Burke rattles the bars of a flimsy cage that contains the broken dreams and sick fantasies of a new breed of warrior - nameless, faceless and powerful, crossing borders with impunity, familiar with war and its accommodations, as conscienceless as a corporation banking obscene profits. Burke throws them all together in a flaming crucible, a clash of men not just good or evil but a little of both, painfully fallible and occasionally capable of reflection and remorse. Burke views his characters through a glass darkly, but with flashes of insight and compassion that allow a tempering of judgment. The stature of this author is undeniable, a man who has lived his passions through his protagonists, who burns with the truth of tales born of time and experience.