Burton writes with the charm of a man intimate with East Texas and wryly amused by manís natural rebellion against law and order when thereís a profit to be made. In fact, Sheriff Bo Handel of Caddo County has grown pretty tolerant of petty crimes, as long as they donít affect the lives of those in ďhis town,Ē gamblers and prostitutes little cause for concern. But the drug trade has gradually infiltrated even this rural place, bringing crime and goons that portend trouble for regular hard-working folks. This new reality is borne out by the murder of Amanda Twiller, a married woman caught up in infidelity and drug addiction, left on the front lawn of her home in full disarray, stone-cold dead.
Such crimes are an affront to the low-keyed governance Bo favors. An investigation into Amandaís actions and last known associates opens up a raft of ugly possibilities, including a high-jacked shipment of cocaine worth a million dollars and the presence of a freelance mob goon with a fulfillment list in his pocket. One name leads to another, and Bo has plenty of suspects he must whittle down by a painstaking process of elimination before focusing on Amanda Twillerís murderer.
His writing quirky and as eccentric as the characters he creates, Burton intimates that it would be a mistake to underestimate the diligence of this sixty-two-year-old lawman. Through Bo, we meet the dedicated deputies and lifelong friends who share histories and losses in equal measure, as well as the bottom-feeders who prosper from the detritus of addiction and increasingly violent sources that expect prompt payment for their illegal goods. Not too proud to accept help from the FBI, Bo appraises the larger picture and the big fish the bureau has been angling for, so far too clever to make a mistake but walking a thin line when the cocaine is stolen by an entrepreneur.
The story moves as deceptively slowly as the sheriff, diverse characters falling into place: an alcoholic Vietnam vet; a woman whose only living son is Satanís spawn; a female bartender with an interest in Bo; and a deputy who secretly claims his affections. Much like James Lee Burkeís Dave Robicheaux, Bo Handel is a creature of his environment, respecting the values and lifestyle of the place he lives in and long past the need to fight every battle. Burtonís appeal as a writer is his balance of human foibles and the need to confront a growing evil, East Texas a precious part of the American psyche victimized by a pervasive epidemic that shows no respect for class, race or dignity. All things are resolved - with a few unexpected twists. The practical realities of small-town law enforcement, where loyalties run deep and the troubles of life are taken into account when judging a manís faults, slip back into gear. Burton writes with a sure hand and an appealing repartee; a lot of wisdom couched in this gem.