The Jealous Kind

Written by James Lee Burke
Review by Thomas j. Howley

Forget the “Happy Days” of the carefree 1950s. Shortly after WWII, Houston, Texas is a simmering cauldron of mayhem, hatred, and incessant violence. According to author James Lee Burke, the city of that time is the murder capital of the world! The protagonist, seventeen-year-old Aaron Holland Broussard, is eerily wise beyond his years, enmeshed in his first love and simultaneously plagued by all types of low-life scum, including rich kids, Sicilian gangsters, crooked cops, local organized crime and predatory teachers.

Aaron must try to protect his new girlfriend, Valerie Epstein (whose father may be a cold-blooded killer), his benighted best friend, Saber Bledsoe, his mentally damaged mother and alcoholic father, and try to make a few friends out of his long list of enemies. The book careens along swiftly as Aaron narrowly averts one catastrophe after another but can’t seem to make it all stop. He is aided on occasion by a sad policeman, a mafia moll, the wisdom of his father and the genetic inheritance received from his Texas Ranger grandfather. Somehow, good triumphs in the end.

The author’s world depicted here is too dark and foreboding for my tastes, but Burke’s noir outlook is an apparent reason for his longstanding success across years of numerous novels, including his last that I reviewed. The angelic girlfriend appears too ethereal and unconvincing, and Nazi youth camps and brown shirts in 1950s Texas strain credulity. But still, the book pulses non-stop with continuous emotional earthquakes until it erupts in a volcanic and satisfying ending. The prose is unique and entrancing, Aaron’s pet dogs and cats are innocent and likeable, and at least he goes to Mass on Sundays. I must admit I, almost reluctantly, liked this novel.