This novel was not quite what I expected, but that is definitely not a bad thing. Weldon Holland met Bonnie and Clyde when he was sixteen and grew up hearing stories of frontier justice from his lawman grandfather. Years pass by and Weldon serves in World War II. Afterwards he returns to America for what he believes will be a time of peace and prosperity for his up and coming oil business.What he doesn’t know is that the oil business is as cutthroat as the old west and as dangerous as the battlefields he survived in the war.
I would classify this novel as a historical fiction mystery, but it doesn’t fit nicely into any box. Beyond the historical setting and the mysteries, the novel comments on humanity, greed, perspective, love, guilt, and so much more. It is so gritty, but also has a lot of heart. Burke deserves the praise I have heard about him. His writing is very very good and his characters come alive. Weldon feels like a western hero in a more modern setting. He truly feels like a product of his past and upbringing. The other characters are fun to root for or to hate. They are complex, layered, and I want to know more about all of them.
I only have a couple of issues. One is the pacing at the beginning. It is quite a jump from Weldon’s young adulthood to the trenches in WWII then suddenly to peacetime and talk of oil fields. (Also, some of the details about oil drilling were lengthy and bored me, but that is hardly a valid complaint.) I enjoyed knowing about Weldon’s past, but the significance of including the scenes with Bonnie and Clyde did not fully hit me until about the halfway point of the novel. I knew very little about the plot going in so the drastically different jumps from setting to setting had me questioning why they were included the way they were. If you hold on most things will click into place, but I’m still not sure I was able to appreciate every subtle stitch of the carefully sewn together plot. My second issue I can’t really expand upon, but the ending is a little over the top and perhaps unrealistic. For me, it didn’t quite fit, but it did not ruin the novel.
I love historical fiction, but big oil businesses and the world wars aren’t topics that usually catch my interest. Through his well put together plot, insightful writing, and wonderfully crafted characters, Burke made me a fan of not only this particular novel, but of him as well.