In The Moon Of The Red Ponies by James Lee Burke
Yes, yes, OK, you’re correct. Rebel Voice didn’t stay away from James Lee for long. It’s an addiction and Rebel Voice is currently attending a clinic for Burke junkies. We sit around and discuss who’s best, Robicheaux or Holland.
In this novel, we get the pleasure of peeking into the life of small-town lawyer, Billy Bob Holland, a former Texas Ranger who has relocated to Montana. Holland is concerned at the recent release of his nemesis, Wyatt Dixon, a truly remarkable character and one of the highlights of this fine tale. Dixon once buried Holland’s wife, Temple, alive (she survived) and now perversely wants Billy Bob to represent him in a business venture. Holland is understandably a tad reluctant.
Billy Bob has the additional problem of trying desperately to legally defend a First Nations environmentalist by the name of Johnny American Horse. This modern Crazy Horse has somehow managed to upset some very serious people who have massive investments in chemicals and pollutants. They want Johnny and his comrades stopped at all costs and employ the dregs of ex-con society to get the job done. But Johnny American Horse proves difficult to kill.
It has to be said that this is a beautifully written story. Burke has many fantastic novels to his credit, but this is up there with the best of them. It has action, plot twists, weird and wonderful personalities, strong dialogue, consistency and a wonderful setting. It has it all, including one of the best titles you will encounter in many’s a long day.
The story moves seamlessly, from following Billy Bob, to Johnny American Horse, to Dixon, to failed cop Darrel McComb, to a plethora of nutcases with funky cameos in this epic. The reader is never bored. Nor will the reader be confused, even though the cast is sizeable and their backstories are entered into in some depth at times. Burke don’t do fickle.
Yet the action is relentless. The mysteries add up. The bad guys multiply and the good and pseudo-good guys try harder. The characters are not one-dimensional either. Wyatt Dixon is a good example of the magic that Burke can weave when creating his people. Wyatt is an animal with a growing conscience who seeks peace and perhaps redemption. The FBI also appear more complex here than in many other standard representations.
James Lee also provides us with greater insight into the relationship between Billy Bob and Temple. The various dynamics are complex yet easily understood. Burke knows how to write. There is also the matter of the title which comes from visions that Johnny American Horse has. No one can compare to Burke when it comes to creating titles for his work. In The Moon Of The Red Ponies could be a title from one of Meatloaf’s earlier songs, except Burke would be a much better lyricist than the wailing blob ever was. It’s a title and novel that you won’t forget.
Sult scale rating: 9 out of 10. Excellent book that will keep you hanging on every sentence. If Shakespeare was alive today, he would weep with bitter jealousy and start a fight with Anne Hathaway because of her constant praise for Burke. Rebel Voice recommends that the reader not go past this book. It’s worth your time and then some.
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