In the Moon of Red Ponies is the fourth novel in Edgar winner James Lee Burke’s Billy Bob Holland series. In Bitterroot, Burke’s third novel, former Texas Ranger Holland traveled to Montana to help a friend threatened by psychopathic rodeo clown Wyatt Dixon. With his help, Dixon received a sentence of sixty years in the penitentiary.
Since that time, Holland has moved his family from Louisiana to the Bitterroot Mountains in western Montana where he now practices law. A year after Dixon’s incarceration he is inexplicably released. Readers of Bitterroot will remember Dixon almost killed Temple, Billy Bob’s PI wife, when he buried her alive.
Now settled in Missoula, Holland’s first client is Johnny American Horse, a Desert Storm hero, alcoholic, land preservationist, and Native American rights activist. Sometimes found sleeping in barroom doors on a Sunday morning, local law enforcement believe he is suffering from the ravages of war. Unfortunately, this time Johnny has a concealed weapon under his coat. The normally tough judge lets him off with a warning.
A short time later, Johnny is arrested for suspicion of murder when two hit men hired to kill him bungle the job. As Billy Bob investigates the charges, he finds an intriguing assortment of players including Amber Finley, Johnny’s girlfriend, who happens to be the daughter of one of Montana’s U.S. Senators.
Darrel McComb is a Missoula police detective, former war hero, and mercenary pilot who flew in cocaine for the contras, and who is obsessed with Amber. Another player is FBI agent Seth Masterson, causing Billy Bob to wonder why the U.S. government is interested in this particular murder case.
When McComb takes the case to a higher level and the body count begins to grow, Billy Bob finds himself closer to understanding the reason for Johnny’s arrest. When he and his family find themselves in danger, Billy Bob strikes back to protect those he loves.
In the Moon of Red Ponies contains an intriguing cast of characters. As in previous books, Burke excels in setting the mood and atmosphere. His descriptive narrative brings scenes alive. Although for the most part the story moves along quite well, there are times when Burke’s commentary on environmental issues and treatment of Native Americans unnecessarily slows the pace. Set outside the familiar Louisiana Bayou, regular series readers should still enjoy this next addition.