The Lost Get-Back Boogie, James Lee Burke. New York: Pocket Star, 2006 (first published 1986).
Summary: On release from prison, Iry Paret leaves Louisiana for Montana for a new start with his prisonmate, Buddy Riordan, only to find he has landed in the midst of new troubles.
Iry Paret has been released from Angola after his sentence for killing a man in a bar fight. He arrives home just in time to be with his father in his last days. He survived Korea, with a Purple Heart. He survived the brutalities of Angola. Despite offers from the family and some inherited land, he decides to leave Louisiana, with the permission of his parole board to start life anew with his prisonmate, Buddy Riordan, who lives on his father Frank’s ranch near Missoula, Montana.
Iry is a dobro and guitar player, a blues player. He hopes for a new start, with music gigs to supplement whatever he can make at the ranch. It seems possible, amid fresh fish from the river and spectacular views. He discovers instead that he has landed himself in the midst of trouble both of, and not of his own making.
Frank Riordan has alienated himself from the rest of the people in his community in his efforts to prevent paper companies from spewing foul smelling pollutants into the pristine air. To most people who either are loggers or work in the paper mills, that is the smell of money. Anyone connected to Frank faces the cold shoulder, or worse, including Iry. The town sheriff has it out for him and would just as soon send him back to Angola. Then he discovers his friend Buddy isn’t doing so well. His difficult relationship with his father and the other perceived failures including his failed marriage to Beth, result in periods of self-medicated oblivion or mania. To top it off, Beth comes on to Iry, who is equally attracted to Beth, and he ends up cuckolding his friend while he lives with him.
And the Lost Get Back Boogie? It’s a song Iry tries to write through much of the book but can never quite get the words for. It seems to represent the longing of this blues player to somehow “get back.” Get back to what? Maybe to life before the memories of the war? To life before Angola? And yet that life seems lost in fresh troubles, and the words don’t come.
This is James Lee Burke before Robicheaux, one of his early works. Yet it already bears the trademarks of his future works. Vivid descriptions of place, albeit of the rugged landscape of Montana rather than the lush Louisiana bayous. Characters torn between longing for peace, a sense of justice, and trouble that dogs their ways. A plot where trouble brews and grows from a number of directions.
This is a book for James Lee Burke fans who discovered him through his Robicheaux stories. As it turns out, he was writing good stories well before Robicheaux. Actually, this was the last novel before Robicheaux and the various Holland stories. It might be a good place to get to know James Lee Burke again for the first time.