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by James Lee Burke
Orion, September 2003
320 pages
ISBN: 0752842692

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Hack Holland is a young lawyer and political candidate with a rosy future in Texas at the beginning of the 1970s. Hack has some powerful political allies and a cold and ambitious wife. He also has some hard-hitting, hard-living ancestors who loom large (the Holland family is the same one from the later Billy Bob Holland series), and he's tormented by nightmares from his time as a prisoner of war in Korea. In a way, it's no wonder that he drinks far too much and has a dark side unbecoming of a politician.

Ultimately, though, Hack is a good man but he has too many demons to think rationally. When an old comrade is jailed for his involvement in union agitation, having assaulted a Texas Ranger while on a picket line to get improved workers' rights and pay, Hack agrees to represent him and gets drawn into a bitter civil rights conflict. As a result of the case he has to make decisions about the choices he has made, his ambitions, and his future -- both personal and political.

This is not so much a crime fiction novel as a book about Hack Holland coming to terms with his past, present and future. LAY DOWN MY SWORD AND SHIELD is an early James Lee Burke from 1971. It's atmospheric and powerful with some wonderfully descriptive scenes. The flashbacks of Holland's time as a POW in Korea are stark and brutal. Hack's character is multi-faceted and fascinating in all its depths, but I found it quite difficult to get a grasp on most of the other characters.

It's an interesting early James Lee Burke which shows the strength of Burke's writing, but without the wonderful storytelling skills of the later books. Not recommended as a starting point for reading James Lee Burke, but definitely one which fans will enjoy.

Reviewed by Donna Moore, June 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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