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From Barnes & NobleThe 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).