Review

In the Moon of Red Ponies

by James Lee Burke



IN THE MOON OF RED PONIES is a surprise on a number of levels. It
has been a few years since James Lee Burke has published a Billy
Bob Holland novel; the ending of the last, BITTERROOT, could have
been the finish to the series had he so desired, and indeed, that
appeared to be the case. But here is IN THE MOON OF RED PONIES, and
it is more a continuation of the Holland series more than a marking
of time between Dave Robicheaux novels. This is the definitive
Holland novel and, with BLACK CHERRY BLUES, the definitive Burke
novel.

Burke is not afraid to change the landscapes of his characters. He
does not do so with gay abandon; the changes are thoughtful and
make sense within the context of his work, but are no less
unsettling for their occurrence. So it is with IN THE MOON OF RED
PONIES, when a newly wedded Billy Bob and Temple Holland find their
idyllic relocation to Missoula, Montana abruptly shattered. Wyatt
Dixon, the psychotic scourge of the Hollands, was last seen in
BITTERROOT headed off to prison for the remainder of his
foreseeable existence. Dixon, at the commencement of IN THE MOON OF
RED PONIES, is abruptly released back to society and upon Missoula.
Dixon immediately seeks out the Hollands, but claims to have
cleansed his soul and attained salvation thanks to his work as an
itinerant preacher and a daily ingestion of prescribed
pharmaceutical cocktails. The fact remains, however, that Dixon is
an extremely dangerous man, a loose cannon capable of inflicting
permanent damage at a moment's notice.

At the same time, Holland is entangled in his defense of Johnny
American Horse, an Indian activist who is as often at odds with
himself as he is with those who he sees as despoiling the land that
he considers his birthright. When a private research laboratory
with extensive government contracts is vandalized and burglarized
of sensitive computer files, it appears that American Horse is to
blame. Holland finds himself drawn into an unexpected, uncertain
and uneasy alliance with Dixon, while at cross-purposes with his
client, American Horse, whose actions inadvertently draw Holland
and his family into danger of losing everything they hold
dear.

Burke brings all of this together without a single misstep. IN THE
MOON OF RED PONIES contains one of Burke's more complex plots, yet
he lays it out coherently and so subtly as to leave the reader
without a hint about what will happen next. The conclusion of this
work also leaves enough loose ends to provide fodder for more
Holland novels. Amazingly, Burke continues to surpass his previous,
already breathtaking, descriptive accomplishments. It is hard to
read this book and simultaneously resist the urge to immediately
travel to Montana and see for oneself the scenery that Burke so
intoxicatingly describes.

Well into his third decade of masterful writing, James Lee Burke
has written another masterpiece. IN THE MOON OF RED PONIES will not
make you forget Dave Robicheaux, nor should it. It will, however,
make you remember Billy Bob Holland and eagerly anticipate the next
volume in this series. Very highly recommended.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011

In the Moon of Red Ponies
by James Lee Burke

  • Publication Date: January 25, 2005
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 0743466640
  • ISBN-13: 9780743466646