Seldom has a violent mystery story attacked the question of human potential to do good or evil as powerfully as "In the Moon of Red Ponies" does. In addressing the question so well, Mr. Burke has some startling answers that will surprise many readers. In particular, the challenge of how best to deal with evil doers is addressed in many dimensions . . . suggesting a difficult path for those who wish to do the right thing. Except for a slow and wandering beginning, this book would be an outstanding one. As it is, this book saves the Billy Bob Holland series from the disaster of the last novel in the series, Bitterroot.
Billy Bob Holland is living in Montana now and trying to solve problems through the law rather than with his gun as he often did as a Texas Ranger. He finds himself helping out those who are underdogs, and naturally cannot refuse Johnny American Horse, a Native American whose forebearers include Crazy Horse. Johnny hears voices, sees visions and has a continuing connection into the spiritual world. He's very brave, trusting and a hard worker. Johnny has also attracted the affections of Amber Finley, the beautiful, brilliant and reckless daughter of a U.S. senator. Soon, hit men are trying to kill Johnny, the senator is trying to stop a possible marriage and half of the police force is out to find Johnny.
Against this backdrop, Billy Bob finds it more than distracting when a procedural error in his trial means that his arch enemy, Wyatt Dixon, is released from prison and wants to develop a close and personal relationship with Billy Bob and his wife, Temple, whom Wyatt helped bury alive in the last novel. Wyatt claims to have found the Lord and wants to do the right thing. He also swigs an evil-smelling potion that's supposed to help him behave.
At the same time, there's a break-in at a local company that does agricultural research . . . and someone wants what has been taken back in the worst way.
Billy Bob finds himself fighting for his very soul as well as the safety of his family. What is the right thing to do?
Others in the story find themselves facing the same question, including Johnny, Amber, a local police detective (Darrel McComb), Seth Masterson (an FBI agent) and Johnny's friends. Each of their answers differs and their lives are profoundly affected as a result.
The evil doers are a pretty nasty bunch. You will enjoy hating them.
Those who are troubled by the danger to individual freedom from the Patriot Act will enjoy how the book develops.
The book has two flaws that it did not quite recover from. First, the beginning . . . although filled with dynamite scenes . . . seems to wander aimlessly. Be patient. The story eventually gels and becomes quite interesting to follow. Second, if a convicted felon has the conviction overturned for a procedural error, the state can retry that felon. Since the error in Wyatt Dixon's trial was peripheral to the case, any prosecutor would have retried the case. Why didn't this happen in the story? No explanation is given.
The book ends on an interesting note as the results of uncovering the wrongs have unexpected consequences. Should we do the right thing because good consequences . . . or because we should do the right thing? Mr. Burke makes that answer painfully clear in the ending.