Wayfaring Stranger, by James Lee Burke

Weldon Avery Holland is brought up by his mother and grandfather, has an encounter with Bonnie and Clyde in his youth, fights and is nearly killed in the Battle of the Bulge, then marries a woman he rescues from the Nazis and returns to set up an oil pipeline company in Texas. He and his business partner seem to attract the wrong sort of attention, and for most of the book they end up trying to defend themselves against increasingly overt attacks.

So quite a bit happens at the start of the book, and by the end of it I was thinking "wow, that covered a lot". It was a great story, and the writing was very good - brought to life by the narrator, Will Paton, who's been the reader for all three of JLB's books that I've had. He has an amazing voice.

The Bonnie and Clyde incident is a bit peculiar but seems to have a mystical resonance through the book, with echoes of the episode recurring at odd intervals. The Battle of the Bulge stuff was quite a change in tone but very well done I thought, brought back memories of the games I played with Tim.

I had a couple of reservations.. Weldon's wife, Rosita, who he rescued, is described as being a fearsomely strong woman, with a mind of her own etc.. When Weldon tracks her down after they became separated, she initially refuses to marry him because she's due to sail to Israel and take up some cause there. But after she comes back to the States with him, she has no story at all. Weldon, his partner Hershil, and Hershil's wife, all have fairly strong life-stories, but Rosita, who we're constantly told is this amazingly independent and principled woman, seems to do little but console and follow Wendel.

In the case of Rosita, it seemed like JLB was too willing to tell rather than show: there wasn't really anything in Rosita's actions which justified the descriptions of her.

The other thing I found a bit difficult (and I think this may be common to his other books) was the often elliptical way that people would talk to one another. You rarely got someone saying e.g. "so-and-so has it in for you because you’re a communist": rather, they'd say something like "a person might want to consider whether it’s a good idea to read books when the sun is going down" (well maybe not quite that obscure, but that sort of thing). I don't know if the reader was meant to puzzle these things out (I don't think I always could) or whether they're deliberately vague and ambigious. Specifically, I didn't really understand the dark forces who had it in for Weldone - either who they were or why they were doing what they did. There are suggestions in the book but it wasn't clear to me whether those suggestions were meant to be taken literally. Perhaps this was just a way to make the reader feel as confused as Weldon did.

The ending of the book was a bit abrupt and felt a bit of a cop-out, but not enough to spoil it much.

In spite of the above, I did really enjoy the book and was left feeling a bit empty when it had finished - I missed Will Paton's voice and Weldon's story.

I think maybe there is a follow on - at least, I think this book is part of a series about the family, and I'd definitely be up for reading more.

Completed : 14-January-2016 (audiobook)

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