Bitterroot   by James Lee Burke

Alas, the love affair that had blossomed between Rebel Voice and James Lee Burke has at last floundered upon the rocks of inconsistency. We’ve broken up.

Bitterroot is not an episode in the Dave Robicheaux series. Instead, it is one in the Billy Bob Holland saga. I have to ask, would you trust someone named Billy Bob? Would you be waiting for the appearance of Mary Ellen and John Boy? Would you hope to avoid squealing like a pig? I would.

The bold Billy Bob is a former Texas Ranger turned lawyer who makes his way from the Lone Star State to the Big Sky Country of Montana, where his good friend, Doc Voss, lives. Doc is a former Navy SEAL, hopefully not one of those who made a balls of trying to capture Bin Laden and crashed a chopper whilst doing so, and then fell out with everyone as he wrote an account of his heroics, making a tidy sum whilst doing so.

A nasty gold-mining corporation is causing untold problems in Doc’s locality as they pollute the waterways and land with cyanide used during the extraction process. Doc is not only a government trained assassin, he is also an environmentalist and takes issue with this capitalist enterprise.

This story has some parallels in Ireland today. A gold-mining company stands accused of exploiting parts of the beautiful Sperrin Mountains in their determination to get the gold under them thar hills. Ireland doesn’t have SEALS. It used to have a very efficient guerrilla army known as the PIRA. They would have taken care of the polluters. Yet, today they are but an old boy’s club with apparently little interest in opposing the exploitation of the Irish people and land.

Getting back to Montana, we find Doc running foul of a local group of bikers who work with some thoroughly vile white supremacists who, in turn, are attached to a paedophile ring. Burke doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to portraying neo-Nazis and Kluxers and perverts. He hammers them and, Rebel Voice says, more power to the Burke.

Billy Bob can’t stand by and allow his good friend to get into trouble. When Doc’s daughter is brutally attacked, Billy Bob finds himself drawn ever deeper into the emerging battle. His son, Lucas, and his business partner and possible one true love, Temple, arrive to complicate matters. The result is a twisting and fast-paced yarn.

We have the aforementioned Bikers, White Militia, and perverts. We also have a hard put upon First Nations girl, a cantankerous sheriff, a bunny boiler and, of course, the Italian Mafia who seem to show up in all Burke’s novels. There is also a troublesome writer and his movie star wife who cause all sorts of mayhem. The ingredients are there for a great story…

Sadly, the great story doesn’t emerge. Gutted.

This is the first Billy Bob tale that Rebel Voice has reviewed. It is not on the same scale of quality as the Dave Robicheaux series. It presents as if Burke was going through the motions with this, his heart being elsewhere, possibly in New Iberia with Robicheaux.

Bitterroot feels rushed. It’s not the pace, which is grand. It’s the plot. Characters are running here and there when it seems unnecessary. They undertake actions that are senseless and dangerous. They make mistakes that could and should have been avoided. There is much inconsistency. It all points to a book that lost its way, and the resultant plot suffers.

We have the same nonchalant attitude to killers that Rebel Voice mentioned in the reviews of the Dave Robicheaux series. Billy Bob is threatened by known sociopaths, yet he waltzes around the place as if he is a feckin’ hippy on his way to San Francisco to partake of weed and acid and orgies and existential investigation. It’s not consistent with the experience of a man who killed many people during his tenure as a Texas Ranger. He would be much more cautious, especially when his son arrives and becomes embroiled in a dispute with the most dangerous person in the story. Billy Bob needs some counselling on his parenting skills.

As the story progresses, we met ATF agents on the prowl. Their attitude toward Billy Bob is again not what you would expect from government agents who meet a known tough guy as Mr Holland is. It all fails to gel.

This is a pity, as the characters themselves are notable. Burke can really create likeable and dislikeable persons. But as the puppet master, he has them dancing wildly and in an unexplained way. It all becomes very frustrating and disconcerting.

Still, the setting is glorious, as always. The prose is poetical in places, as always. Burke’s potential is substantial, as always. We’re still broken up though and Rebel Voice is currently seeing someone else. James Lee had better get himself knocked back into shape if he wants to stand a chance with this reviewer. Perhaps Rebel Voice will play hard to get and see how that works, or perhaps just become a review slut…

Sult scale rating: 6 out of 10. No flowers or chocolates for Burkey wurkey this time round. Bitterroot is something of a turkey. Christmas is on its way.

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