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by James Lee Burke
Recorded Books, January 2001
Unabridged audiobook pages
ISBN: 078879471X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Buy or rent from www.recordedbooks.com

I will be up-front with you right off the bat: BITTERROOT is some of the best writing I've seen in a long time, not just from James Lee Burke, but from anyone.

Billy Bob Holland is visiting Bitterroot, Montana, to do some fishing with his long-time friend, Doc. Doc has had a troubled life, and doesn't always handle situations in a manner which most people would deem responsible or acceptable. He starts off in this book by antagonizing a bunch of bikers in a bar. Shortly thereafter, his daughter Maisie is raped, and the obvious suspects are the bikers. But Doc is also not getting along with a group of gold-mining engineers who are using cyanide, thereby threatening the environment. He is involved with some Hollywood types, who drink a lot and snort cocaine and are generally not wonderful people.

Into this lovely menage comes a sociopath from Billy Bob's past, Everit Dixon. (Spellings on names are a guess, as are some names. One of the down-sides, for me, of audio books is not being able to quickly look back and see how a name is spelled, or which name belongs to which character. Any errors in this review can be traced to this problem, and the difficulty I have in writing notes and driving at the same time. Mea culpa.) Mr Dixon has some connections with the local militia, another group with whom Doc has issues. Billy Bob gets involved in the relationship between Doc and a Native American woman, who may or may not be working undercover; this triangle complicates an already complex mixture of connections affecting most of the people in Bitterroot.

The writing is exquisite. The plot, and the situations in which Billy Bob finds himself, is seamy, sordid, ugly, unpleasant, violent, and nasty. The writing kept me reading/listening anyway, even when I wanted to quit. The characters are so real, so vivid, that I frequently found myself talking to them, telling them to behave differently, to react differently, to not do what they were bound and determined to do. Burke's ability to describe the scenery, either the natural beauty of Montana or the man-made settings, is amazing to me.

I don't want to say that I enjoyed this book. I'm not sure I did. I found it disturbing on a multitude of levels. I found portions of it almost impossible to listen to because of the violent nature of what was happening. I also found it very difficult not to keep listening. Burke's writing is very compelling in this regard.

BITTERROOT is the third novel in the Billy Bob Holland trilogy, which begins with CIMARRON ROSE and continues with Heartwood. I did not get the feeling that I was missing anything by not having read the first two books, although I would be very surprised if they didn't add to the depth of some of the recurring characters. The background on the ghost of J Q Navarro, the partner Billy Bob Holland killed in CIMARRON ROSE, might be relevant but Burke gives the reader enough information so that the reader doesn't feel lost.

The reader/narrator is an actor named Tom Stechschulte. I found him to be quite capable, although I would much rather have had a woman reading the women's parts. Men, in general, seem to read women's parts far more breathily than women really speak. I found it easy to keep track of who was speaking; with as many characters as there are in BITTERROOT, Stechschulte did an admirable job keeping them all distinguishable.

The last CD is an interview with James Lee Burke. I found this to be an interesting addition, with some insights into the motivations and characters which enriched my understanding of Billy Bob Holland.

All in all, I would recommend BITTERROOT to any reader who likes James Lee Burke's other works; any reader who revels in a compelling drama, no matter how dark; any reader with an interest in the issues confronting a state like Montana in today's world. Burke is a very talented, hard-working writer who can transcend the traditional limits of the mystery genre with a seemingly effortless grace and style. BITTERROOT is, in my opinion, one of his best works.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, April 2004

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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