Book review: “Every Cloak Rolled in Blood”

A cemetery plot may feel like a lonely place.

It’s quiet there, peaceful, solitary. Does it seem final, or is it the beginning of a new life in a Beyond you can’t yet know? Graveside or otherwise, they say we’re never alone, and that spirits are watching us. And in the new book “Every Cloak Rolled in Blood” by James Lee Burke, that’s not always a good thing.

Eighty-five-year-old Aaron Holland Broussard knew death.

He’d seen it before: in Vietnam as a young man, on the rez near his Montana farm, when friends died, when his wife died. He wasn’t afraid of it anymore. But he refused to accept the fact that his daughter, Fannie Mae, was gone forever.

She was the kindest person he knew. An animal lover. She was just fifty-four when she died and every day since was another shard of anguish in Broussard’s heart. Every day, he looked for ways to bring her back somehow.

If this made him a target of local vandals, then there it was. His capacity to care was all but gone, but his heart wasn’t so hardened that he couldn’t give a couple of local boys a hand up. Life near the rez was tough; the opioid epidemic didn’t help and Broussard would do his part to help his neighbors despite that someone made it abundantly clear that he should mind his own business.

How could he do that, when the local state trooper, Ruby Spotted Horse, told him that she was hiding a portal to evil, locked in her basement?

Sometimes, Broussard saw Fannie Mae on the edge of his vision, visiting him in ways that only he could see. But he also started seeing opaque horrors of the past, murder of Native innocents, and small, malevolent children. Any of them might masquerade as his beloved daughter.

Then evil began visiting his home in the shape of real humans, and though Aaron Broussard didn’t want to live anymore, dying by his own hand was no longer an option…

Well, here’s a departure.

In his note to readers, author James Lee Burke explains why he wrote this novel, and you must read that before you set eyes on the first sentence of the story. It explains why “Every Cloak Rolled in Blood” is saturated with unbearable, fiery grief, the kind that makes your throat raw just from reading it. See that note and you’ll understand why metaphysical threads tie this whole novel together. 

Before you go thinking, though, that it’s just some weird one-off in a horror vein, know that this book is still a mystery. It’s got the familiar Big Sky settings that Burke fans want, current-events-style issues, diverse characters, and murderous villains. 

The difference is that those villains may be real, or they may not.

“Every Cloak Rolled in Blood” could be Burke’s best novel; surely, it will appeal to fans beyond the whodunit genre. Try it and you’ll love it beauty and its pain. You’ll love the shivers. You’ll love this plot.

“Every Cloak Rolled in Blood” by James Lee Burke

c.2022, Simon & Schuster $27.00 288 pages