James Lee Burke, Lay Down My Sword and Shield

Posted March 20, 2012 by Kathy Davie in

Lay Down My Sword And Shield (Hackberry Holland, #1)Lay Down My Sword And Shield by James Lee Burke
Series: Hackberry Holland, 1
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First in the Hackberry Holland series revolving around an alcoholic lawyer trying to find himself after his release from a Korean POW camp while trying to live up to his family legend.

My Take
Keep in mind that Burke wrote this in 1971 at the end of the Vietnam War.

Burke spends most of the book setting Hack up for his transformation. Steeping us in his degeneracy—the alcohol and whoring. The engrained expectancy of his social class. A shallow peek in the cesspool of politics and campaigning.

It takes the desperate plight of an army buddy to force the change onto Hack while the finish is “the love of a good woman”. It sure didn’t hurt that he had “the hate of a snotty one” back home.

Hack is not a lovable, let alone a likable character. He’s so busy schmoozing and drinking with long visits across the border in the brothels, that I spent a lot of time wondering why I was pushing myself to read it. To be honest, if I hadn’t read Feast Day of Fools, I very likely would have put it down. It does, however, provide a brutal look at the violent treatment of farm workers and negroes as they tried to survive in the white man’s world of the early 1960s.

I get the feeling that Burke needed to release a lot of anger when he wrote this. Hack rages throughout, drowning his fears with booze, hoping to get through a night without the nightmares of the war. I’m curious if Hack began questioning the people—their motives and thoughts—of his social milieu because of his experiences in Korea and the friendships he made with his fellow soldiers. Men outside his social class.

The Characters
Hackberry Holland is running for office and is partners in a law firm with his brother Bailey. Verisa is his socially conscious wife more concerned with her parties and barbecues.

Art Gomez was Hack’s buddy in the Navy and he’s been railroaded into prison. Rie Velasquez has volunteered with the United Farm Workers carrying on a family tradition of protest.

Senator Samuel Dowling. The man who was using Hack to fulfill his own political debts. Cecil Wayne Posey was the public defender who did nothing for Art; I’d certainly like to do something for Posey and all the assholes in that town, the prison, the police department, the Texas Rangers…jesus, the list could go on forever. I’d like to think we’ve been making progress since then…

The Cover
The cover is quite patriotic with its flag waving across the middle of the cover, a sunset shining through it with steeples rising in the background, a rifle with helmet standing upright in the foreground.

Lay Down My Sword and Shield refers to Hack giving up. He’s been questioning the people in his life and the war. The sincerity of politicians like Dowling and the people with whom he associates is way more than questionable. By the time we survive Hack’s ephiphany, I think we all are ready to lay that shield down as well.

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