Wyatt Dixon, the psycho Billy Bob Holland put away forever in Bitterroot (2001), is back—but he’s the least of Billy Bob’s troubles this time.
When a small-town lawyer who’s been a Texas Ranger and an assistant US attorney moves to Montana along with his wife, a former deputy sheriff and corrections officer, you might expect he’d have a little peace and quiet. And peace-and-quiet are Dixon’s refrain when his conviction is overturned on a technicality and he’s back in Billy Bob’s face. All he wants is a lawyer who’ll handle his horse-trading, he insists; Jesus and his chemical cocktails are keeping him on the straight and narrow. Whether or not the persistently creepy Dixon can be believed, there’s plenty of other trouble close at hand. A break-in at the Global Research lab is widely assumed to be the work of homeless half-Lakota Johnny American Horse and his girlfriend, Senator Romulus Finney’s wild daughter Amber. Whoever’s got the records stolen from the lab, and whoever knows where the thieves or the papers are, is in the sights of blandly ruthless Karsten Mabus, millionaire CEO of Global’s parent company. Darrel McComb, the racist detective with a thing for Amber, goes after Johnny; Mabus sics his hirelings on Billy Bob and his vulnerable family. It’s all familiar to fans of Burke’s thoughtful, volcanic studies of violence and redemption (White Doves at Morning, 2002, etc.). What’s new is the implication of this backwoods intrigue in national politics and the determined attempts of several key characters to change their natures. It’s a wrenching process; you can hear the gears strain and shriek as they slip their paths.
Required reading for anybody who wonders whether mystery plotting has a future in mainstream fiction.