"The Jealous Kind" - a book review on Jules Brenner's Critical Mystery Tour
The Jealous Kind
A novel by James Lee Burke
Book review by Jules Brenner
Simon & Schuster, released 8/30/16, 400 pp., $27.99
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From an author whose mark of distinction is his powerful and poetic Dave Robichaux crime novels comes this atmospheric re-creation of a past time and a teenage boy with a language style and an unrestrained personality that means trouble for him and joy for the reader. As coming-of-age stories go, this is one not to be missed.

Aaron Holland Brousard is growing up in 1952 Houston, Texas and has just become a high school senior at the close of the spring term. And, while this paints a picture that might ascend to adolescent mischief, his reality takes us beyond that and the age norms of petting, drive-ins, and hot cars.

While he tries to keep his best friend Saber Bledsoe away from making conpulsively stupid choices, ("A conversation with Saber was like talking to the driver of a concrete mixer while he was backing his vehicle through a clock shop"), in his lone hours Aaron thinks. Deeply, analytically, fixated on the kind of man he wants to be.

He thinks about his father's experience in a previous war, when men of the Union died climbing to their deaths on Cemetary Hill, brought down en masse by the superior fire of Confederate weapons. More than a history lesson, these acts exemplify, to him, a standard of behavior he's intent on living up to no matter the threat.

A high stress bullride on the most dangerous animal at the rodeo tests the principle.

But, more serious tests soon follow. His criterion is part of his mindset when, one night at the drive-in, he watches Valerie Epstein, the school beauty, throw her dinner at her boyfriend Grady Harrelson, the school countryclubber, in a fit of rage. It was a breakup, she having become disgusted with Grady's insults and courseness. Aaron being present might have had something to do with it, too. Whatever the cause, something has been started that alters the implications of a high school world.

Grady isn't only wealthy, his bullying tendencies go with his connections to his role model, Vick Atlas, a sociopathic mobman of the town. When a pink Caddie storing loot in the form of money and gold that the East coast Mafia thinks is theirs goes missing, events take on a whole new order of danger, with Aaron and Saber being accused of hiding it.

Aaron, habitually saying things that come running off his mind, unfiltered, ofttimes challenging relationships. But this is only a lead up to inciting killers abd exposing himself to mob jeapordy in order to bring their threats to an end. It makes matters as perilous as they can become, testing whether he can find the level of courage he's striving for.

As the focus of psychotic killers, he enforces friendship on a not-too-willing law enforcement officer, consorts with an ageing mobster moll, and goes through one of his fugue states when he might do anything without a memory of it.

As in every book Burke writes, evil plays a central and powerful role. Here, with a daring change of language style, he creates a new character in a time when it was ice boxes instead of refrigerators and he makes it read as though it was inspired by his own early experiences. "The Jealous Kind" captures that grey atmospheric mixture of decency and sociopathic horror that is the hallmark of this literary master.

It may or may not be the best book he's ever written, (he thinks it is and I'm not arguing), but there's a good chance it'll be the most unforgettable one.

If you don't yet own The Jealous Kind and would like to purchase it (usually at a sizable discount), click here.