Bitterroot, by James Lee Burke ****

bitterootThis was a pretty good book. I suppose in giving it four stars, I am unfairly comparing Burke to himself rather than to other writers, at least to a degree.

Here’s the issue: most writers who keep a series going have trouble adding another and keeping it distinct; the only two situations where I’ve seen writers do this concurrently without blurring their characters are Ed McBain’s 87th precinct (in which he had multiple protagonists, but also had another series going), and JA Jance, whose Allie Reynolds and Joanna Brady, both crime-solving females in Arizona, tend to blur, but both of which are distinct from her Seattle character, JP Beaumont. And indeed, I find that Billy Bob has much more in common with Dave Robicheaux, Burke’s more successful protagonist, than is distinct. The writer’s voice and moral code are strong, which is great, but he would do better to stick with the Robicheaux series. (I have not yet read the third series, what there is of it).

That said, his pacing is fine here, his word-smithery strong, and his romantic thread very sweet, albeit subordinate to and inseparable from the main story line, as he intends. Having been on something of a Burke jag lately, I will also say that I have seen way more fishing information (literally fishing) than I ever need to see again. I don’t CARE what kind of lure he uses, what type of rod, or where the best fish are found. I share his environmental passion and as far as I’m concerned, he can talk about that just as much as he likes. I also enjoy his class perspective, and his realistic view of exactly how much help ordinary people can expect from cops as a general rule.

I read a lot of mystery/crime/detective novels, and I was nonplussed when I found last winter that not only was this writer out there for decades completely undetected by me, but he was also a double Edgar winner. Just how did I miss that?

The cover of this one tells me EXACTLY how I missed him: a cowboy hat and a fish hook! Not going to grab my eye, because it suggests a Western novel.

If you can read this one cheaply or free, or if you have already read everything else Burke writes, go ahead. Why not? But if you have money for just one paperback book, I would usher you first toward the Dave Robicheaux series that starts with The Neon Rain.(less)

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