Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review: "Bull Mountain" by Brian Panowich

There's a sense of impending danger that pervades Bull Mountain, Brian Panowich's excellent debut novel, from nearly the very first sentence. And even though we've seen this tug-of-war between good and evil before, this battle between what is blood and what is law, Panowich's lyrical prose, ratcheted-up tension, and crackling action make this familiar story immensely compelling.

Bull Mountain in North Georgia has been home to the Burroughs clan for a number of generations. The Burroughs aren't what you'd call an upstanding family—years of running moonshine led down the dangerous path to production and sales of marijuana and crystal meth. Hal Burroughs, the oldest of three brothers, runs his kingdom with an iron hand, a violent temper, and an army of minions willing to kill or fight to defend the family's honor and all it holds dear. Mess with Hal Burroughs, you're more than likely to wind up buried in a hole somewhere.

"Up here it's something different. It's something deeper than bone. It's not something that they earned or had to fight to get. They were born into it, and the fight comes on real hard when someone threatens to take it away. It's an integral part of who they are—who we are."

Clayton Burroughs, Hal's youngest brother, followed a different path, one which led him to the post of sheriff in the town closest to Bull Mountain. He knows all too well what goes on up on that mountain, as he watched his father and brothers lash out at those who dared to challenge their domain or their livelihood. Clayton has let his brother be, even as lawmakers have tried unsuccessfully to bring Hal and his posse down. But when a straight-shooting ATF agent comes to Clayton with an offer to leave Hal alone as long as he agrees to turn over his more dangerous gun supplier, he sets a chain of events in motion that will rock Bull Mountain to its core.

While there are a few surprises to be had in this book, for the most part, you know what is going to happen, but the story is so well-told, you don't care. Panowich paints evocative lyrical pictures of place and time, creates characters that are fascinating despite their familiarity, and keeps the action and suspense going, until you're on the same runaway train that Clayton, Hal, and others are on. There's one plot twist that seems far too obvious, and it disappointed me a little bit, but beyond that, while the battle of lawful versus lawless is clear, what isn't necessarily clear is where the lines are drawn, making the book even more interesting and enjoyable.

I can't wait to see what is next in Brian Panowich's career, because it's definitely started with a bang. The Burroughs clan is a family you don't want to mess with, but you won't be able to get enough of them either.

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