Occasionally in the writing world, a debut author’s book comes along and immediately starts making waves. There’s no exact science to which books will do it, or why.
But such books do tend to have one specific characteristic in common. They’re almost always dripping with talent and authenticity in a way that makes even experienced authors pine for that level of accomplishment.
Brian Panowich’s Bull Mountain is just this kind of book. Almost from the first page, I was struck by the sheer authenticity of the book’s voice, from dialog to narration. Maybe it’s because I love rural noir. Or maybe it’s because the native Texan in me holds a secret nostalgia for all things southern.
But as I dug into Bull Mountain, I had a real feeling that I was experiencing something totally unique. Something as filled with authentic talent as it is with authentic setting and character. This book made me self-conscious as someone who also writes southern rural noir.
Bull Mountain is the saga of the Burroughs clan, a long line of Georgia outlaws stretching back into the days before prohibition. the Burroughs have spent nearly all those years protected by the sanctity of their backwoods home turf, a place called Bull Mountain.
The narrative bounces back and forth throughout the Burroughs family’s storied criminal history. It reveals deep divisions between hard men and women as it moves, tracking the family’s business progression from the sale of moonshine into marijuana and eventually methamphetamine.
Only a lone Burroughs has ever turned away from the family business. The book’s main protagonist, Clayton Burroughs, has instead chosen to become sheriff of a neighboring community to Bull Mountain. He’s ostracized himself from his kin in the process.
The plot moves back and forth through history, from moments in Clayton’s childhood to moments in his own father’s childhood.
Soon, a federal agent shows up on Clayton’s doorstep with a grim forecast for the Burroughs clan’s future. This forces Clayton to attempt to reconnect with his estranged brother, who is now head of the family business. He also hates Clayton’s guts.
What unfurls is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and engaging tale of deep family ties, even deeper family scars, and violence so dark it will make your hair stand straight up. Panowich’s writes in absolutely stellar voice throughout. Perhaps that’s why this book has already made a huge splash and garnered an option for a television series.
Expect awards to follow. Bull Mountain is one of the best pieces of southern rural noir to land from a debut author in a long, long time. I suspect we will be hearing a lot more of the name Brian Panowich in the future, so do yourself a favor and go pick up a copy of Bull Mountain.
That way when it becomes a big, successful television series you can tell your friends you read it before it was “cool.” Find Brian Panowich online at www.brianpanowich.com.
[Michael Pool’s latest novel, Texas Two-Step, is out now from Down and Out Books]