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Bitterroot [Hardcover]

James Lee Burke
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 12 2001

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.


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Ex-Texas Rangers are suckers for old friends in distress, so when Vietnam vet and recent widower Doc Voss calls lawyer Billy Bob Holland from Montana with an apparently innocent invitation to visit, Billy Bob packs up and "head[s] north with creel and fly rod in the foolish hope that somehow my own ghosts did not cross state lines."

Doc has managed to alienate everyone in town, including mining interests on the Blackfoot River; a drug-running biker gang; an enclave of white supremacists, led by slimy Carl Hinkel; the local mob connection, in the person of an even slimier Nicki Molinari; and the feds, who don't want anything interfering with their pursuit of both Hinkel and Molinari. After Doc's daughter is brutally raped by three of the bikers, and those three are murdered in a particularly nasty fashion, Holland must try to clear his friend of suspicion. As he ferrets through a tangled web of coincidence and connection, Holland risks losing everything and everyone dear to him.

The wild card in the pack is Wyatt Dixon, a psychopathic ex-con who holds Holland responsible for his sister's death, and who has followed him to Montana: "[Wyatt] recycled pain, stored its memory, footnoted every instance of it in his life and the manner in which it had been visited upon him, then paid back his enemies and tormentors in ways they never foresaw."

James Lee Burke's prose alternately sparkles with a perverse insouciance ("Lamar had gotten his. Big time. Soaked in paint thinner and flame-roasted from head to foot like a burned burrito.") and glows with a muted intensity ("I closed the door and slipped the bolt and went back to sleep and hoped that the sun would rise on a better world for all of us."). The author's capacity to add depth to his characters with a few well-chosen phrases remains striking: the town sheriff walks "heavily, like a man who knew his knowledge of the world would never have an influence upon it"; a group of college boys is "suntanned and hard-muscled, innocently secure in the knowledge that membership in a group of people such as themselves meant that age and mortality would never hold sway in their lives."

Is the Billy Bob Holland series (three novels and counting) just Robicheaux Redux? The ex-Texas Ranger is, as either man might admit, the spittin' image of Dave Robicheaux, Burke's Louisiana PI: simultaneously rugged and rage-filled, chivalrous and callow, debonair and disturbing. And like the Robicheaux series, the Holland novels drift effortlessly among genres: regional writing, gritty noir, classic PI. You can cavil that Burke is repeating himself--or you can rejoice that Burke is continuing to enlarge his pool of intense, lyrical crime novels. Personally, I plump for the latter. --Kelly Flynn

From Publishers Weekly

A two-time Edgar Award winner, Burke touches on a variety of hot-button issues sure to thrill his fans in his first book since last year's Purple Cane Road. The author's popular protagonist, Texas attorney Billy Bob Holland, travels to big sky country for some fishing with Doc Voss, a friend who's relocated to Montana's Bitterroot Valley after his wife's death. Soaring descriptions of the majestic setting contrast sharply with the evil doings of the people who live there. Doc has made some powerful enemies in his campaign against a mining venture he believes would harm the economy and the pristine countryside. The stakes rise when his teenage daughter is raped in her bedroom. The rapists could be any of the white supremacists who live in the woods, randy bikers on the prowl, strange members of a conservative religious cult or even the Native Americans eking out a substandard living on the local reservation. Billy Bob and Doc also have to contend with celebrities wanting to experience "country life," organized crime figures, government agents and a sinister, recently paroled felon who blames Billy Bob for his wife's death. To top it off, Billy Bob suffers from guilt over the accidental killing of his best friend as well as nightmarish memories of Vietnam. It's only a matter of time before the powder keg blows. Those who relish Burke's patented mix of supercharged violence and overheated passions are in for a treat. (June 18)Forecast: While not quite in the same league as Purple Cane Road, this entry is likely to scale bestseller lists as well.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
DOC VOSS'S FOLKS were farmers of German descent, Mennonite pacifists who ran a few head of Brahman outside of Deaf Smith, Texas, and raised beans and melons and tomatoes and paid their taxes and generally went their own way. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars 4 1/2 Stars...A Moral Anchor June 19 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
For those of us weaned on the evocative scenes of Dave Robicheaux's New Orleans, it's taken time to warm to Montana's rugged beauty and Billy Bob's character. I've refused to give up on this fictional relationship, and the rewards are beginning to become apparent.
No, I don't claim that "Bitterroot" is the best Burke book out there. Personally, I'm a huge fan of "Jolie Blon's Bounce," "Purple Cane Road," and "In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead." I must admit, however, that the setting of Montana is beginning to etch itself into my mind. Or rather, Burke is beginning to etch it there.
With careful descriptions and poetic phrases, James Lee Burke has spun his tale and added depth to his recurring characters. Although evil and violence abound, he provides a moral anchor in his narrative. He portrays racism, elitism, ignorance, and sadism, yet assures us that the world will not go to the dogs without a good fight from his heros and heroines--no matter how flawed they might be. With this in mind, I plunked down my money today for the latest Billy Bob saga, "In the Moon of Red Ponies."
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3.0 out of 5 stars same old same old Feb. 27 2004
Format:Hardcover
Robicheaux/Holland are now the same person. The stock characters are all the same. The sheriff is a decent and kind man wishing all the various criminals would go back home and leave him alone while also being annoyed by the psychopathic level of violence perpetrated by the "good guys". There is a stock Mafia character that served in Nam and is only sort-of evil. There is the one super-villain that is nearly unstoppable. The "rich and famous" of course have various types of evil lurking in the background.
All the characters seem utterly unable to speak to each other normally or carry on a decent conversation. For example, when the local sheriff warns Holland that a bad guy is after him, Holland just gets annoyed with the Sheriff. Holland also can't see any reason why his son shouldn't camp in the yard while Holland and Company are in the middle of being beset by murderous psycho cases. The book is good if you have never read Burke, but it is the SAME good as his last few other books.
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4.0 out of 5 stars More Like 3.7 Stars Dec 27 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I liked this book one whole heck of a lot but it also disturbed me on many levels as well. There are 4 main heros pitted agienst an equal number of bad guys. Billy Bob, his son, Doc and his daughter I also enjoyed the characte1r of the sheiff in the town but I guess he really doesn't count as a "Good Guy" because he is just doing his job.
The three bad guys are Clayton Dixon(the most menicing charcter in the book), Terry Witherspoon his annoying psychopath in training and a mobster who is about as stereotypical as they come.
Barring all of these it's a great book for what it is, there are good guys you can root for and bad guys you can hate. People familiar with a few James Lee Burke books will also take note there is also a ghost and several crazy people rounding out the cast something that no self respecting James Lee Berke book would be without.
Overall-I loved the character development, the thing that killed this book was the many plot threads and that its villains were disposed of much too easily and conveniently I almost felt cheated when the book was over. This is a book that will be perfect for long distance driving, because it keeps a listener or reader interested but not OVER interested.
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By A Customer
Format:Audio CD
1. You don't need to repeat the entire name "L.Q. Navarro" every time you use it. The readers get it. "L.Q." will suffice after the second round.
2. "Sure" isn't an interesting word. It makes the speaker sound dull. I think one reviewer here used the word "tedious" to describe Billy Bob Holland (whose name in-sures tedium, I might add).
3. Alert your editors to the fact that you will possbily be over-using expressions like "baby fat on her upper arms" "a mouth like a flower," "purple garters on his upper arms" and "lantern-jawed." Ask them to edit you more rigorously so the reader does not have to suffer this, er, tedious - repetition.
4. If you are going to go in a new direction with your writing, how about something really new? As Moseley did with his Socrates series. Right now, the Texas Ranger thing is just Bad Robicheaux.
5. Robicheaux is rippin'. But we know that artists need to change...again...change to something that is better, not duller.
6. Someone mentioned that the poetry makes up for the dull prose. No, it doesn't. In fact, the dull prose makes the poetry sound cornball. Icky. Billy Bob gives no indication from his personality that he is in any way a poetic man. He's like James Garner on a "cute" day. You love to watch him perform, but if he should start spouting deep wisdom and poetry you'd groan and shout "Shaddup, stupid!"
7. Leave Texas rangers to Mr. Lonesome Dove. Now THERE'S a buncha rangers!
8. Avoid speechifying, preaching and endless purple prose at all costs! Some parts of this novel are like a musical in which the characters burst into sentimental song and you want to cover your ears and say, "Not now!" It's not that poetic prose doesn't have its place. The Robicheaux novels are wonderful because of this feature.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Wondrous landscape,....terrifying tale..........
James Lee Burke brings an amazing cast of characters together in a story about good and evil. Bitterroot takes place in the beautiful lands of Montana. Read more
Published on July 16 2003 by jeanne-scott
2.0 out of 5 stars Waiting for the airplane to leave the runway
...any shortcoming in the dialogue portion of a Burke novel is made up in the poetry of his prose... Read more
Published on Sept. 28 2002 by Larry Scantlebury
2.0 out of 5 stars Once upon a time, you were a Texas Ranger.
"You were a Texas Ranger." Well, this line has repeated itself almost every 2 or three pages. Read more
Published on Sept. 3 2002 by justareader
4.0 out of 5 stars Misfits Portrayed in Elegant Prose
Burke's eye sees details few of us would ever notice, and he finds words that will make you feel that you're looking at a photograph of what he just saw. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by "curtcow"
4.0 out of 5 stars Misfits Portrayed in Elegant Prose
Burke's eye sees details few of us would ever notice, and he finds words that will make you feel that you're looking at a photograph of what he just saw. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by "curtcow"
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Bob Holland in Montana
James Lee Burke was raised in Texas (near as I can tell) and spent a large portion of his life in Louisiana. Read more
Published on July 23 2002 by David W. Nicholas
2.0 out of 5 stars Bitterroot leaves a bitter taste
I am long-time admirer of James Lee Burke's books and I think I have read all of his Dave Robicheaux novels, as well as a few others set in different locales. Read more
Published on July 7 2002 by Douglas Pettem
4.0 out of 5 stars Bold and Ambitious
In "Bitterroot", James Lee Burke leaves his familiar haunts of coastal Louisiana and tackles Montana's Big Sky country with a new cast of mostly memorable new characters. Read more
Published on July 6 2002 by Gary Griffiths
5.0 out of 5 stars Another great Burke book
James Lee Burke has shown over the years to be an extremely adept writer, a master of description who nonetheless keeps the story moving. Read more
Published on June 12 2002 by mrliteral
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