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Bitterroot

A Novel

LIST PRICE $17.00

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.

Bitterroot

Chapter 1

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. When Doc got his draft notice his senior year in high school, a lot of us thought he might apply for exemption as a conscientious objector. Instead, Doc enlisted in the Navy and became a hospital corpsman attached to the Marines.

Then he got hooked up with Force Reconnaissance and ended up a SEAL and both a helicopter and fixed-wing pilot who did extractions on the Cambodian border. In fact, Doc became one of the most decorated participants in the Vietnam War.

The night Doc returned home he burned his uniform in the backyard of his house, methodically hanging each piece from a stick over a fire that swirled out of a rusted oil drum, dissolving his Marine-issue tropicals into glowing threadworms. He joined a fundamentalist church, one even more radical in its views than his family’s traditional faith. When asked to give witness, he rose in the midst of the congregation and calmly recited a story of a village incursion that made his fellow parishioners in the slat-board church house weep and tremble.

At the end of harvest season he disappeared into Mexico. We heard rumors that Doc was an addict, living in a hut on the Bay of Campeche, his mind gone, his hair and beard like a lion’s mane, his body pocked with sores.

I received a grimed, pencil-written postcard from him that read: “Dear Billy Bob, Don’t let the politicians or the generals get you. I swim with dolphins in the morning. The ocean is full of light and the dolphins speak to me as one of their own. At least I think they do.

“Your bud, the guy who used to be Tobin Voss.”

But two years later Doc came back to us, gaunt, his face shaved, his hair cropped like a convict’s, a notebook full of poems stuffed down in his duffel bag.

He worked through the summer with his father and mother, selling melons and cantaloupes and strawberries off a tailgate outside of San Antonio, then enrolled at the university in San Marcos. Before we knew it, Doc graduated and went on to Baylor and received a medical degree.

We stopped worrying about Doc, in an almost self-congratulatory way, as you do when an errant relative finally becomes what you thought he should have always been. Doc never talked about the war, except in a collection of poems he published, then in a collection of stories based on the poems, one that perhaps a famous film director stole from in producing an award-winning movie about the Vietnam War.

Doc ran a clinic in Deaf Smith and married a girl from Montana. When he lost her in a plane crash five years ago, he handled tragedy in his own life as he had handled the war. He didn’t talk about it.

Nor of the fires that had never died inside him or the latent potential for violence that the gentleness in his eyes denied.
Photograph by James McDavid

James Lee Burke is a New York Times bestselling author, two-time winner of the Edgar Award, and the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts in Fiction. He has authored forty novels and two short story collections. He lives in Missoula, Montana.

More books from this author: James Lee Burke

More books in this series: A Holland Family Novel