Bitterroot (Billy Bob Holland Series #3)

Bitterroot (Billy Bob Holland Series #3)

3.9 17
by James Lee Burke

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Following his acclaimed bestseller Purple Cane Road, James Lee Burke returns with a triumphant tour de force.
Set in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, home to celebrities seeking to escape the pressures of public life, as well as to xenophobes dedicated to establishing a bulkhead of patriotic paranoia, Burke's novel features Billy Bob Holland, former


Following his acclaimed bestseller Purple Cane Road, James Lee Burke returns with a triumphant tour de force.
Set in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, home to celebrities seeking to escape the pressures of public life, as well as to xenophobes dedicated to establishing a bulkhead of patriotic paranoia, Burke's novel features Billy Bob Holland, former Texas Ranger and now a Texas-based lawyer, who has come to Big Sky Country for some fishing and ends up helping out an old friend in trouble.
And big trouble it is, not just for his friend but for Billy Bob himself — in the form of Wyatt Dixon, a recent prison parolee sworn to kill Billy Bob as revenge for both his imprisonment and his sister's death, both of which he blames on the former Texas lawman. As the mysteries multiply and the body count mounts, the reader is drawn deeper into the tortured mind of Billy Bob Holland, a complex hero tormented by the mistakes of his past and driven to make things — all things — right. But beneath the guise of justice for the weak and downtrodden lies a tendency for violence that at times becomes more terrifying than the danger he is trying to eradicate.
As USA Today noted in discussing the parallels between Billy Bob Holland and Burke's other popular series hero, David Robicheaux, "Robicheaux and Holland are two of a kind, white-hat heroes whose essential goodness doesn't keep them from fighting back. The two series describe different landscapes, but one theme remains constant: the inner conflict when upright men are provoked into violence in defense of hearth, home, women, and children. There are plenty of parallels. Billy Bob is an ex-Texas Ranger; Dave is an ex-New Orleans cop. Dave battles alcoholism and the ghosts of Vietnam; Billy Bob actually sees ghosts, including the Ranger he accidentally gunned down....But most of all, both protagonists hold a vision of a pure and simple life."
In Bitterroot, with its rugged and vivid setting, its intricate plot, and a set of remarkable, unforgettable characters, and crafted with the lyrical prose and the elegiac tone that have inspired many critics to compare him to William Faulkner, James Lee Burke has written a thriller destined to surpass the success of his previous novels.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The New York Times James Lee Burke writes exceptionally clean, unforced prose that has a pronounced streak of poetry in it.
The Barnes & Noble Review
Ex-Texas Ranger Billy Bob Holland makes his third appearance (after Heartwood and the Edgar Award-winning Cimarron Rose) in James Lee Burke's dark, sorrowful, appropriately titled new novel, Bitterroot. This time out, Burke takes Holland out of the familiar environs of Deaf Smith, Texas, and moves him to Montana, where he becomes enmeshed in an interlocking series of brutal -- and brutalizing -- events.

Ostensibly, Bill Bob Has come to Montana for an extended fishing vacation with long-time friend Tobin "Doc" Voss, a widowed Vietnam vet and a man of strong, if contradictory, principles. Voss, an impassioned environmentalist, has lobbied publicly against the incursions of a local mining corporation and has made some powerful enemies, a fact that becomes clear when a trio of drug-addled bikers are sent to rape and terrorize his teenaged daughter, Maisey. In the aftermath of that rape, the leader of the bikers is found burned to death in his bed. Doc, of course, emerges as the primary suspect, and finds himself arrested for premeditated murder.

Billy Bob Holland's subsequent investigation begins with Maisey's rape and moves steadily outward, encompassing pedophilia, organized crime, right-wing extremism, and virtually every possible combination of personal and institutional corruption, all of which stand in stark contrast to the pristine, vulnerable beauty of the Montana landscape. Participants in this grim complex of narratives include an alcoholic mystery novelist, an embittered federal agent, a psychopathic ex-con with a very personal agenda, an undercover informant with a hidden motive for murder, and a local physician who has lost both her husband and son, and whose life has collapsed beneath her insupportable grief.

At the center of all this is Billy Bob Holland himself, a fundamentally decent man who is literally haunted by a specter from his past, and who must constantly confront his "abiding anger" and his extreme capacity for violence. Like Dave Robichaux, Burke's other series hero, he is both a witness to and participant in the moral crises of the age. In Bitterroot, his urgent, eloquent narrative voice is as compelling as ever, lending depth and credibility to this disturbing, beautifully crafted book. (Bill Sheehan)

Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. His book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, At the Foot of the Story Tree, has been published by Subterranean Press (

This is the latest in Burke's relatively new Billy Bob Holland series, about an ex-Texas Ranger-turned-attorney who works in Deaf Smith, Texas. In this outing Billy Bob travels to Montana to visit friend and fellow Vietnam veteran Doc Voss, who gets in a tangle with some local bikers, embarrassing one with some fancy Asian fighting techniques. Soon, Billy Bob's best bud and favorite detective, Temple Carrol, shows up with Billy Bob's son, Lucas, who himself gets involved with an attractive Native American woman, Sue Lynn Big Medicine, who happens to be an undercover detective. The bad guys are represented nicely: There are several nasty boys, the most interesting of which is Wyatt Dixon, an ex-con and rodeo clown. Last but not least, there's L.Q. Navarro, the ghost of Billy Bob's best friend and partner whom Billy accidentally shot and killed. Navarro, always striking a movie cowboy pose and twirling his hat, occasionally shows up offering counsel. Billy Bob always has a question for his old friend about how to fix things, and, in this story, there's plenty that needs fixing. But who cares? After all, it's James Lee Burke in time for summer.
—Randy Michael Signor

(Excerpted Review)
Library Journal
How many bad guys can you fit into one crime novel? Too many, in the case of Bitterroot, Burke's latest Billy Bob Holland episode set in Missoula, MT. Violent bikers, West Coast mobsters, paramilitary types, indifferent agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and corrupt mining company personnel all figure into this rather confusing and disjointed plot. The abridged format probably aggravates the problem. As usual, the author paints vivid pictures: his descriptions enable listeners to see the Montana scenery and feel emotions with the characters, who are interesting and complex. Narrator Will Patton effectively captures the mood of the book. Burke fans will want this, despite its flaws. Recommended for suspense/ mystery collections where Burke is popular. Christine Valentine, Davenport Univ., Kalamazoo, MI Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Billy Bob Holland (Heartwood) leaves his Texas law practice behind for a fishing trip with his old friend Dr. Tobin Voss in Montana-forgetting that Burke's troubled heroes can't travel far enough to leave trouble behind. Case in point: When Doc Voss, a Vietnam vet who's long opposed every cause from cyanide-assisted mining to the local militias, gets himself in with one bad apple too many, his daughter Maisey is raped and beaten. And when Lamar Ellison, the hell-raising biker who's the obvious candidate for head rapist, is killed, Doc is promptly arrested for murder. Nor has Billy Bob been wasting his own time. In short order, he's bedded and broken up with Dr. Cleo Lonnigan, a part-time staffer at Doc's clinic whose husband and son were executed right around the time mobster Nicki Molinari claims she ran off with $700,000 of his money; and he's inadvertently fingered undercover ATF agent Sue Lynn Big Medicine to Wyatt Dixon, an ex-con who's high-tailed it up from Texas to join his old bud, militia chief Carl Dixon, and incidentally start needling Billy Bob about the fatal plea bargain he cut for Wyatt's late sister. Refusing as usual to back down from trouble, injustice, or even a single provoking word, Billy Bob has soon antagonized Cleo, the local sheriff, and the ATF, in addition to the nominal bad guys. And Burke, who's been exploring the unholy intimacy between good and evil for 20 years, soon has his decent hero-still haunted by the familiar of the best friend he accidentally shot to death-up to his neck in trouble, as acts of violence float and spin and vanish like leaves on a whirlpool. There can't be much suspense when everybody in Missoula County wants to kill everybody else. Instead, Burke provides another chapter of the kind of scorched-earth moral warfare that never ends.

Product Details

Pocket Books
Publication date:
Billy Bob Holland Series, #3
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.84(w) x 4.24(h) x 1.08(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Doc's deceased wife had come from a ranching family in the Bitterroot Valley of western Montana. When Doc first met her on a fishing vacation nearly twenty years ago, I think he fell in love with her state almost as much as he did with her. After her death and burial on her family's ranch, he returned to Montana again and again, spending the entire summer and holiday season there, floating the Bitterroot River or cross-country skiing and climbing in the Bitterroot Mountains with pitons and ice ax. I suspected in Doc's mind his wife was still with him when he glided down the old sunlit ski trails that crisscrossed the timber above her burial place. Finally he bought a log house on the Blackfoot River. He said it was only a vacation home, but I believed Doc was slipping away from us. Perhaps true peace might eventually come into his life, I told myself.

Then, just last June, he invited me for an indefinite visit. I turned my law office over to a partner for three months and headed north with creel and fly rod in the foolish hope that somehow my own ghosts did not cross state lines.

Supposedly the word "Missoula" is from the Salish Indian language and means "the meeting of the rivers." The area is so named because it is there that both the Bitterroot and Blackfoot rivers flow into the Clark Fork of the Columbia.

The wooded hills above the Blackfoot River where Doc had bought his home were still dark at 7 A.M., the moon like a sliver of crusted ice above a steep-sided rock canyon that rose to a plateau covered with ponderosa. The river seemed to glow with a black, metallic light, and steam boiled out of the falls in the channels and off the boulders that were exposed in the current.

I picked up my fly rod and net and canvas creel from the porch of Doc's house and walked down the path toward the riverbank. The air smelled of the water's coldness and the humus back in the darkness of the woods and the deer and elk dung that had dried on the pebbled banks of the river. I watched Doc Voss squat on his haunches in front of a driftwood fire and stir the strips of ham in a skillet with a fork, squinting his eyes against the smoke, his upper body warmed only by a fly vest, his shoulders braided with sinew.

Copyright © 2001 by James Lee Burke

Meet the Author

James Lee Burke, a rare winner of two Edgar Awards, and named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, is the author of more than thirty previous novels and two collections of short stories, including such New York Times bestsellers as Light of the World, Creole Belle, Swan Peak, The Tin Roof Blowdown, and Feast Day of Fools. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

Brief Biography

New Iberia, Louisiana and Missoula, Montana
Date of Birth:
December 5, 1936
Place of Birth:
Houston, Texas
B.A., University of Missouri, 1959; M.A., University of Missouri, 1960

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Bitterroot 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a new a new Burke reader. I will read all of his work.
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DeeDC More than 1 year ago
I have read all of his books, and this one, in my opinion is his best! It has all the positive characteristics of his writing, is suspenceful, exciting and just seems to flow beautifully. Loved it. Didn't want it to finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Billy Bob, the ultimate dysfunctional protagonist, is forced to confront the same flawed familial relationships many readers have. The deeply flawed characters in Bitterroot seem to come together under Burke's literary tutelage to make a great mystery.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Billy Bob Holland rides again: this time the ex-Texas Ranger/lawyer ventures into the beautiful Big Sky country of Montana. He goes fishing ... and catches chaos, mayhem, violence and death. I agree that Billy Bob is becoming more like Dave Robicheaux - but is that a bad thing? I think not! The only other crime novel I've read this year that matches this is POWER OF ATTORNEY by (UK bestseller and attorney) DEXTER DIAS. It ALSO feature an ex-cop who has turned lawyer. Both books beat anything else in crime/thriller writing around at the moment. After class crime novels? Do read BITTERROOT and POWER OF ATTORNEY.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bitterroot was another excellent James Lee Burke offering - he still remains the best in the genre as far as I am concerned. The only downfall to this third in the Billy Bob series - is that most will compare it to the Dave Robicheaux series. While I like to see writers branch out, Burke has made Dave Robicheax almost real - to the point that I feel cheated when a new Billy Bob book comes out - that means he spent time not working on a Dave Robicheaux offering. Burke has hit such a high standard with his original work - that even a very good read like Bitterroot sometimes seem disappointing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I made a promise to myself after reading HEARTWOOD last year that I¿d buy the next ¿Billy Bob Holland¿ novel in hardback when it came out, rather than waiting for the paperback edition. It¿s a promise I¿m glad I kept. In James Lee Burke¿s newest novel, BITTERROOT, ex-Texas Ranger Billy Bob Holland is back in true form, ready to protect his family and friends, and to put down anyone who gets in his face. When Billy Bob goes to Bitterroot, Montana to visit his old friend, Tobin ¿Doc¿ Voss, he expects to have a nice, relaxing vacation with maybe a little ¿fly¿ fishing thrown in. It turns out, however, to be anything but relaxing. It seems that a local mining company is polluting the rivers around Bitterroot with cyanide and Doc Voss is trying to put a stop to it. The mining company decides to fight back by hiring some hard-nose bikers and members of a certain white supremacist group (led by Carl Hinkel) to try and intimidate Doc. Since Doc is a former SEAL and did his fare share of killing in Vietnam, he¿s not the kind of guy who generally backs down. When Doc¿s sixteen-year-old daughter, Maisey, is brutally raped by three bikers, everything takes a turn for the worse. The men suspected of the crime are released from jail due to a lack of evidence and then are murdered, one by one, by an unknown assailant. Because of evidence found at the crime scenes, Doc is the number one suspect for the murders, and he has to ask Billy Bob to represent him as his lawyer. As if Billy Bob doesn¿t have enough to deal with, an ex-con by the name of Wyatt Dixon shows up in Bitterroot, seeking revenge against the former Texas Ranger for the death of his sister (a woman who killed all of her children). Then, there¿s a mobster by the name of Nicki Molinari, who¿s trying to retrieve some stolen money from a woman Billy Bob happens to be sexually involved with. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. Before the novel is over, the body count is going to be sky high, and Billy Bob is going to have to answer some tough questions about love, family, friendship, and his violent nature. Not even the ghost of his late friend and partner, L.Q. Navarro, will be able to help him with this. In BITTERROOT, James Lee Burke shines at his brightest as he juggles a dozen or more subplots, spinning and weaving them into a gripping tale of violence, suspense and redemption. The character of Billy Bob Holland will have to delve deeply into his heart and examine his feelings for his close friend, Carol Temple, while at the same time, acknowledging that his son, Lucas, is now a man and must be allowed to make his own decisions, right or wrong. Billy Bob must also find a way to deal with his violent tendencies, understanding that he only feels alive when putting down men who deserve to be killed. This is especially true for the character of Wyatt Dixon, a man who¿s as deadly as a rattlesnake and is determine to teach Billy Bob a thing or two about revenge by going after the people he loves the most. Though the book is filled dozens of main and secondary characters, Mr. Burke manages to breathe life into each and everyone one of them through the use of individual quirks and nuances. This is a skill few other authors seem to have. The writing, of course, is sheer poetry to read. Mr. Burke has a finely tuned ear for dialogue and a vivid eye for description, bringing words together that reach into the reader¿s heart and soul, making him or her at one with the story. I have to say that, after three novels, the character of Billy Bob Holland is beginning to remind me more and more of Dave Robicheaux. Both men are filled with guilt at the lost of a close friend or wife. Each one also has a strong loyalty to friends and family, not to mention a strict code of honor that enables them to do whatever is necessary in order to protect the weak and innocent. There¿s even a rumor floating around that Mr. Burke will eventually bring both characters together i
Guest More than 1 year ago
A notable thriller with an interesting story. Mr. Burke does a fine job.
harstan More than 1 year ago
Billy Bob Holland lives with the ghost of his best friend, L.Q. Navarro, the man he accidentally killed when they chased after drug smugglers in Mexico. Billy Bob actually sees and talks with Navarro, but cannot form any relationships with living people because of his all-consuming guilt.

When his friend Doc Voss invites Billy Bob to visit him in Bitterroot Valley, Montana he closes his law practice and goes. Upon arriving, he finds Doc at war with a local militia, bikers, and a mining company destroying the ecology. When Doc¿s daughter is raped, her assailants turn up dead shortly afterward. The police arrest Doc, who is defended by Billy Bob. However, the lawyer has his own problems caused by a sociopath blaming Billy Bob for the death of his sister.

BITTERROOT is one novel in which the thrills never stop coming and every scene is loaded with action. The talented James Lee Burke gets readers interested even in his most vile character as well as the anti-hero Billy Bob, a believer of justice and not necessarily the law. Billy Bob is the focus of the tale, a flawed individual taking responsibility for something he will regret until he dies.

Harriet Klausner