Heartwood Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of Heartwood

Billy Bob Holland, former Texas Ranger and homicide cop, and currently a defense attorney, solves a complicated web of murders, fraud, and intimidation, all involving Earl Deitrich, a very rich man who married a woman Billy Bob once loved. Billy Bob Holland is a former Texas Ranger and homicide cop. He is, currently, a defense attorney in the town of Deaf Smith, “…up in the Texas hill country where the working classes wrestled drill bits and waited tables and the new rich chewed on toothpicks at the country club.” He is a very decent man, living in a town with many indecent people and situations: fraud; corruption; manipulation; and violence.
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There are two men who, now dead, still have an enormous influence on Billy Bob's life. One is his father, who had him “river baptized” and who told him about “heartwood”.

The other is his former partner in the Texas Rangers, L.Q. Navarro. Billy Bob killed, him, accidentally during a drug bust. “L.Q. lived in my memory – in fact, was always present in some way in my life – but I didn't feel guilt about his death any longer and I seldom saw him during my waking hours…L.Q. knew me better than I knew myself.”

On many of the most difficult occasions in his life, Billy Bob “sees” L.Q., and they “have conversations”, during which Billy Bob gains insight.

Billy Bob is invited to lunch at the Deitrich's [Earl and Peggy Jean] palatial home. Earl Deitrich is very rich. “He grew up in River Oaks, down in Houston, in an enormous white mansion set up on a hillock surrounded by shade trees…He was an officer, on leave from the army, when he came to the town of Deaf Smith. According to Billy Bob, he took “…Peggy Jean … from our midst, then brought her back to us as his wife and possession, almost as though she were on display.”

At one point, Billy Bob and Peggy Jean had been “an item.”
Peggy Jean Murphy “…who was heartbreakingly beautiful, who lived in our dreams, who commanded such inclusive respect the roughest kids in the West End dared not make a loose remark about her lest they be punched senseless by their own kind.”

Billy Bob was reluctant to go to lunch at the Deitrich home. “I had never felt comfortable around Earl, even though I did my best to like him, but she had left a handwritten note in the mailbox at my law office, saying they were back in town and would love to see me.” There are several other people at the lunch, including a U.S congressman, a Houston real estate broker, a member of the state legislature and their wives, and a small dark-haired man Billy Bob does not identify – an accountant.

Peggy Jean tells Billy Bob “Earl's going to talk business with you.” Billy Bob isn't interested, but Earl does it anyway, saying “Last year I inherited a half a city block in downtown Houston…But it's my worst nightmare…A failed savings and loan had the lease on the site. The government seized the savings and loan and I can't do anything with the property…” Billy Bob says that he cannot help.

Outside, Wilbur Pickett is setting fence posts around a horse lot. “Wilbur Pickett…had failed at every endeavor he had ever undertaken.” Earl decides to invite Wilbur to join them. Earl shows everyone “a huge brass cased vest watch with a thick, square-link chain…” which, he says “… was taken off a Mexican prisoner at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836…”

After the lunch, Billy Bob gets a telephone call, at his office, from Earl, who says that Wilbur stole, not only the watch, but $300,000. in bearer bonds.

Wilbur admits to stealing the watch but not the bonds. When he is arrested Billy Bob decides to represent him and goes to his home. Wilbur lives with his blind wife, Kippy Jo, “…an Indian woman from the Northern Cheyenne reservation in Montana” who has “the sight”.

What follows is an undiluted catalog of fraud, corruption, manipulation, and violence.

Earl, far from being very rich, has had severe financial setbacks. He stole the bearer bonds himself to get the insurance money. However, since people think he is rich, he has lots of power in Deaf Smith, and uses that power to deflect suspicion from himself.

Odd things happen.

Marvin Pomroy, from the prosecutor's office calls Billy Bob and says “Let me warn you beforehand, Billy Bob. Earl Deitrich wants Wilbur's head on a pike.”

Billy Bob gets a phone call at home from a man, who doesn't identify himself, saying that “…a degree of wrong…” has been done to Wilbur. When Billy Bob recognizes Mr. Greenbaum's voice [the accountant] the line goes dead. Mr. Greenbaum is found murdered in Houston.

Some of the bearer bonds are found in Wilbur's wife's dresser. However, later, Wilbur's fingerprints are not found on them, but the Sheriff Hugo Roberts's prints are.

Finally, with the help of several people, using their various skills, Billy Bob solves the murders. Temple Carrol is a private investigator who lives down the road from Billy Bob with her invalid father. According to Billy Bob, she “…could find a chicken feather in a snowstorm…” Kippy Jo Pickett “sees pictures in her head” and gives advanced warnings of impending disasters. L.Q. Navarro “gives” advice and support. Billy Bob's illegitimate son, Lucas Smothers, imparts wisdom from the perspective of a college-aged student. And Pete, the young boy to whom Billy Bob is a father figure, tells truths as only children can.
Best part of story, including ending: I liked the plot but I thought it was confusing and disorganized and it was much, much too long! If it were cut by 30% it would have been much better.

Best scene in story: In my favorite scene Pete, a half-breed Mexican boy to whom Billy Bob is a father figure, tells a joke: “An old man was playing checkers on the front porch of his store with a cocker spaniel. This California guy pulls in for gas and says, ‘Mister, that must be the smartest dog that ever was born.' The old man says, ‘I don't think he's so smart. I done beat him three games out of five.'”

Opinion about the main character: I like Billy Bob because he has honor and integrity and is a kind, compassionate person.

The review of this Book prepared by Maria Perper a Level 4 Yellow-Headed Blackbird scholar

Chapter Analysis of Heartwood

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book descript. of violence and chases 10%Planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 30%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 30%How society works & physical descript. (people, objects, places) 30% Tone of story    -   depressing/sad How difficult to spot villain?    -   Challenging Time/era of story:    -   2000+ (Present) What % of story relates directly to the mystery, not the subplot?    -   70% Murder of certain profession?    -   businessmen Kind of investigator    -   defense lawyer Kid or adult book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Any non-mystery subplot?    -   life in small town Crime Thriller    -   Yes Murder Mystery (killer unknown)    -   Yes

Main Character

Gender    -   Male Profession/status:    -   a lawyer creature Age:    -   40's-50's Ethnicity/Race    -   White/American


United States    -   Yes The US:    -   Texas Small town?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   moderately detailed references to deaths Amount of dialog    -   roughly even amounts of descript and dialog

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James Lee Burke Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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