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Book review: 'The Jealous Kind' by James Lee Burke

“The Jealous Kind” by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster, 382 pages, in stores)

James Lee Burke is one of the most prolific writers in the business and one of the best.

Twice he has received the Edgar Award for Best Novel, for “Black Cherry Blues” in 1990 and “Cimarron Rose” in 1998. He is best known for his Dave Robicheaux mystery series. If you have never read Burke before, I recommend starting with the Robicheaux novels.

His newest book is “The Jealous Kind,” touted as a coming-of-age story set in 1952 Texas with the main character being 17-year-old Aaron Holland Broussard. Broussard falls in love, sticks his nose in business where it doesn't belong and finds his life is in peril.

His first love is the beautiful Valerie Epstein, who turns her affection toward Broussard after discovering that her boyfriend, Grady Harrelson, is a privileged kid who lacks any real substance.

Broussard comes to her defense early in the novel and becomes an enemy to Harrelson, who wants to be a gangster, and his Mob associate friends.

Like most teenagers, Broussard thinks he knows more than he does. He is quick to confront those who have wronged him and his friends, is loyal to a fault and becomes embroiled in a sinister world that threatens the lives of everyone he loves, including his girlfriend, best friend and parents.

Burke is a master of details and providing rich settings for stories. In the Robicheaux novels, the setting is New Orleans and rural Louisiana with all of the region's colorful characters, images and cuisine.

In “The Jealous Kind,” the backdrop is Houston in the 1950s, with its racial tensions, hot cars, rodeos, street gangs, nightclubs and drive-ins.

For a teenager, Broussard's relationships are more complicated than most. He has an alcoholic father, a mother with a mental illness and a best friend who joins a street gang and finds himself in more trouble than he imagined.

In addition, Broussard befriends a police detective who seems sympathetic to his troubles while at the same time suspecting him of wrongdoing. You hang with bad people and bad things happen.

I can't say “The Jealous Kind” is my favorite Burke novel, but I haven't found one yet that hasn't kept me turning the pages.

— Ed Godfrey, The Oklahoman

Ed Godfrey

Ed Godfrey was born in Muskogee and raised in Stigler. He has worked at The Oklahoman for 25 years. During that time, he has worked a myriad of beats for The Oklahoman including both the federal and county courthouse in Oklahoma City for more... Read more ›

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