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 (www.subterraneanpress.com).
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
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.
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.
Read an Excerpt
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